Hong Kong’s legislature was adjourned early on Thursday after pro-democracy lawmakers opposed the government’s attempt to fast-track a bill that would extend maternity leave by four weeks.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong proposed a motion to send the bill – which would raise Hong Kong’s statutory maternity leave to 14 weeks – to the legislature’s Panel on Manpower, without first going through the House Committee.
The House Committee typically decides the legislative agenda and is responsible for setting up bills committees that scrutinise each proposed bill in detail.
However, the influential body was left without a chairperson or a deputy chairperson due to an ongoing filibuster by democrats which has lasted for around three months.
Law said on Thursday that the legislature was working under “unusual” circumstances. If the maternity leave bill were to wait until the House Committee elected its leadership, then the delay would mean it would be unlikely to pass during the current legislative term.
On Wednesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam also urged lawmakers to halt the filibuster, saying that democrats would be responsible if working mothers could not enjoy more l eave.
Legislative Council President Andrew Leung said that Law’s motion could be debated, but lawmaker Ray Chan asked for a quorum count as a stalling tactic. The pro-democracy camp left the chamber soon afterwards.
Around 10 pro-Beijing lawmakers were also absent, and the meeting was adjourned early after the number of lawmakers fell short of the required minimum.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Ho Kai-ming earlier tried to move a similar motion to allow the maternity leave bill to bypass the House Committee, but Leung ruled against the motion, saying that there was no consensus that the matter was urgent.
Speaking after the adjournment, pro-democracy camp convenor Tanya Chan compared the government’s latest proposal to the attempt to rush the extradition bill through the legislature last year.
“We are worried this is the precursor to Article 23 [national security legislation],” Chan said. “If they use these kinds of methods even for a bill that’s not controversial, wouldn’t they also use this for controversial bills like Article 23?”
Chan said that democrats had “no other choice” but to force an adjournment and demanded that the government adhere to the legislature’s rules. Democrats added that they supported longer paid leave for working mothers and found the bill to be relatively uncontroversial.
However, the pro-Beijing camp criticised the adjournment and accused democrats of “playing games” in the House Committee, which led to the legislature being “paralysed.”
“We had a difficult time convincing the government to loosen its purse strings to fund the maternity leave, but this effort is wrecked by the opposition camp that puts politics first,” said lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin, who is affiliated with the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions.
LegCo president Leung said that the adjournment was regrettable and a “waste of precious time,” but did not resume the meeting because of the lack of urgency.
“Attending meetings is the responsibility of every lawmaker, and they have to be responsible to the voters,” Leung said.
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