Labor chief says sorry for abrupt motion on maternity leave bill

January 13, 2020 14:42
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said he had to make a quick decision regarding the maternity leave bill as there was not enough time. Photo: RTHK

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong has apologized to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for attempting to bypass a Legislative Council committee to push a bill on maternity leave, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The government tabled the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2019 to the Legislative Council on Jan. 8, seeking to increase the statutory maternity leave from the current 10 weeks to 14 weeks.

But the House Committee, which is responsible for setting up a bills committee to scrutinize the bill, has been in limbo because its members have not been able to elect a chairperson and a deputy.

In a Legco meeting on Thursday, lawmaker Kalvin Ho Kai-ming from the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) moved to table the bill in the full house of Legco, but the motion was rejected by Legco President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen on the ground that it could not gain extensive consensus among different parties.

Law then cited Rule 54(4) of the Rules of Procedure and moved a motion suggesting that the bill be sent to the Legco’s Panel on Manpower, only to be slammed by the pan-democrats who noted that doing so would set a bad precedent as a bills committee set up by the House Committee is a must for the passage of a bill.

Although Leung later granted Law’s motion, the pan-democrats were able to force the Legco president to adjourn the meeting due to lack of quorum.

In a post on his official blog on Sunday, Law said he has already offered an apology to the government, including the chief executive, for his proposal.

Law said the wording on the motion was only confirmed six minutes before Thursday’s Legco meeting began at 9 a.m. and therefore he basically did not have time to make an announcement in advance, stressing the entire government, except for him, only knew of the decision after he gave the speech for the motion.

Describing his motion as “act first, report later”, Law said he had to quickly make a decision on whether “to do or not to do” as there was not enough time.

According to Law, it will take another 18 months before the new rule on the statutory maternity leave can really take effect even after the bill is passed as the government needs to set up a new mechanism for employers to apply for funding to pay for the additional salary under the extended maternity leave.

The government needs time to allocate resources and manpower, and develop an IT system for the application procedures, for the establishment of the new mechanism, he said.

Although the bill has not been passed, the administration still plans to ask Legco’s Finance Committee in the short term for funding to develop the IT system, the labor and welfare chief said.

Law also said in his blog he would also say sorry to those lawmakers who were displeased with his abrupt motion.

Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which is the largest political party in the Legco, hoped the bill extending the maternity leave could be passed as soon as possible.

Lee, who chaired the House Committee in the last Legco session, said bypassing the committee would be the last resort since it has been “hijacked”.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen from People Power, who called for a quorum count on Thursday, said not having the bill scrutinized at the House Committee will make it possible for the National Anthem Bill not to be scrutinized at the House Committee as well, adding that the pan-democrats will definitely fight to the end against it.

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