[Hong Kong] Labour Chief Apologises For Pressure To Move Maternity Bill Through

Law Chi-kwong - the Secretary for Labour and Welfare - made apologies to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for trying to bypass a Legislative Council committee to further a bill on maternity leave according to reporting by Chinese-language newspaper the Hong Kong Economic Journal, EJ Insight reports.

The Employment (Amendment) Bill 2019 to the Legislative Council (Legco) was tabled on January 8. The bill aims to increase statutory maternity leave from its current 10-week duration to 14 weeks. The House Committee - responsible for setting up a bills committee to scrutinize the bill - has reportedly been in limbo because its members have been unable to elect a chairperson and deputy.

At the end of last week, in a Legco meeting, lawmaker Kalvin Ho Kai-ming - from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) - moved to table the bill. The motion was rejected by Legco President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen on the basis that it could not gain sufficient consensus across different parties.

Law Chi-kwong followed the decision by citing 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. He was slammed by pan-democrats who stated that the action would set a bad precedent because a bills committee set up by the House Committee is essential for the passage of a bill.

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

On Sunday, according to Hong Kong Economic Journal reporting, Law addressed the matter in a post on his official blog, saying he has already offered an apology to the government - including the chief executive - for his proposal.

In the post, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare said the wording on the motion was confirmed only six minutes prior to the start of Thursday’s Legco meeting. He contended that he essentially did not have time to make an announcement in advance and stressed that, besides himself, the entire government only became aware of the decision following his speech for the motion.

According to Law, even after the passing of the bill, it could be an additional 18 months before the new rule on the statutory maternity leave can really take effect. He said a new mechanism for employers to apply for funding to pay for the additional salary the extended maternity leave requires must first be set up by the government.

Law explained that time to allocate resources and manpower and develop an IT system for the application procedures will also be needed. Though the bill has yet to pass, the administration will still ask Legco’s Finance Committee for funding to develop the IT system in the short term, he said.

In the same blog, Law also said he would apologise to those lawmakers who were displeased with his abrupt motion.