Hong Kong’s legislature on Thursday passed a bill increasing statutory maternity leave from ten to 14 weeks and reimbursing employers up to HK$80,000 for the additional leave. The move followed years of lobbying.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said on Thursday the move aimed to encourage working women to breastfeed for longer periods of time to improve the health and development of their children.

Photo: Pixabay.

“Breastfeeding brings immediate and long-term benefits to both mothers and babies. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusively breastfeeding babies up to about six months of age and gradually introducing appropriate solid food while continuing breastfeeding until two years old or beyond,” she said.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam first proposed the Employment (Amendment) Bill in her 2018 Policy Address. The bill passed with 54 votes in favour and two abstentions.

Hong Kong’s maternity and paternity leave entitlements are among the shortest in Asia and have been criticised as failing to protect parents’ interests. Prior to the passage of the bill, the ten-week statutory maternity leave had remained at the same level since its implementation in 1981.

New mothers should be provided with at least 14 weeks of maternity leave and paid no less than two-thirds of their previous earnings by the government, according to standards set by the International Labour Organisation, an agency of the United Nations.

Sophia Chan. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Ricky Chu, chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), said the statutory body welcomed the passage: “Increasing the statutory maternity leave to 14 weeks will be of great benefit to the health, growth and development of the baby, [the] health of the mother, facilitation of breastfeeding practices etc.”

“In addition, it will also have a positive effect on improving the fertility rate and increasing women’s labour participation rate.”

Fiona Nott, CEO of NGO The Women’s Foundation, told HKFP the passing of the bill was a positive interim measure: “We hope this move will inspire more family-friendly policies for working parents.”

“Making family-friendly policies equally accessible to men and women can contribute to help [to change] traditional gender norms at home and help support women in the workplace.”

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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.