Although it is common practice for those who can afford it to hire nannies and helpers, or to ask the baby’s grandparents to help, Tung says it was important for him to stay with his wife during the critical time. “The support, company, and care from a husband to a new mother is essential, it is irreplaceable by a housemaid or anything else,” Tung says. Tung took five days of paternity leave.
While only 21 per cent of corporations in Hong Kong had included paternity leave in their company policy by 2008, the practice is widespread in western countries and reflects changing ideas about parental roles.
“Nowadays, the mother is no longer the only person who is responsible for taking care of the family. The breakthrough in this tradition eventually changed the father’s role,” says Professor Angela Wong Wai-ching, associate director of the Gender Research Centre at Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Wong believes that paternity leave carries the implication that mothers and fathers should share the work of looking after the newborn baby.
She supports the idea of legislation to introduce paid paternity leave because it can help to build closer relationships and mutual support within families. “Although there may be a cost to society, it is a price that is worth paying,” says Wong. “Like the implementation of the minimum wage, paternity leave can help promote a certain atmosphere in society.”
Wong points out that some western countries have introduced paternity leave as part of a package of measures to maintain natural population growth. Where birth rates have fallen, governments have passed laws to mandate paternity leave of several months and up to a year. They may also provide subsidies, gifts, medical support and social worker visits to assist the parents-to-be. All these could be helpful to encourage births and boost the birth rate.
Compared with these countries, paternity leave in Hong Kong has a long way to go. It is not yet required by law, and where it exists, the duration is short. While Australian fathers can have a year off with their children, Hong Kong fathers usually get just two to three days of paid paternity leave. Some international corporates, such as HSBC, have more “generous” provisions of up to five days.
Despite the short period of time, fathers are still thankful because they regard their paternity leave as a bonus. “I had five days of leave. Including weekends, I had a whole week off,” says Billy Ho who works for HSBC. “Five days off is rational, since it is a paid leave.” Ho believes the cost to the company would too much if the paid leave lasted too long.
Ho took his leave for the birth of his first child in January 2010. He found the week he spent with his family was sufficient time for him to adapt. He attended the birth and took the baby for check-ups and vaccination.
Ho says that as first-time parents, he and his wife had no experience in what to do after the birth of their baby. He would have applied for time off work if his company had not had a policy for paternity leave. However, he says this would have meant he would quickly use up his annual leave. He might not be allowed any extra leave and could miss some important family moments.