Given the short duration of paternity leave in Hong Kong, companies that institute it say there are few adverse effects.
The Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC), which established a three-day paternity leave policy in 2008, says it has had a positive effect. A spokesman said the policy allows the council to exercise its social responsibility and promote work-life balance.
Since the natural birth rate in Hong Kong is relatively low (0.7-0.8 per cent), HKPC reported that in the past three years, the total number of paid paternity leave days taken by its employees was 93, which is around 0.027% of the total paid leave taken by employees.
Pan Pey-chyou, the legislator for the labour functional constituency says that introducing paternity leave should not be a big financial burden as the average couple in Hong Kong has between one to three children.
“Paternity leave is only a short leave in an employee’s 30 to 40 years of work.” Pan says that even if an employee takes paternity leave three times for up to five days a time over their working life, that would only account for 15 days, or three weeks if you include weekends. “It is actually less than one day [of paid leave] a year,” says Pan.
Pan and his organisation, the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions have been advocating for paternity leave for more than five years. During that time he organised signature campaigns on the street, which gained wide support and positive feedback from the public, especially women.
Pan thinks the time is right for Hong Kong to expand the coverage of paternity leave to private enterprises through legislation. “Some employers would think the leave is not necessary if it is not made into legislation,” Pan says.
However, he realizes that any move to legislate for paternity leave will raise the question of whether there should be mandatory paid paternity leave. Employers of small and medium-sized businesses may argue they are unable to afford it.
Pan says this is why paternity leave benefits are usually provided by larger enterprises and international corporations only. “The culture of international corporates is more generous in providing benefits to employees. They [international and big corporate] would pay to maintain the loyalty of skilled and experienced staff by providing more benefits,” he says.
Unfortunately, many lower-income workers who are the least able to afford extra help with childcare, are the ones who may be working for smaller employers. Pan says many of these small businesses are still adjusting to the impact of minimum wage legislation. Still, he believes that legislating for paternity leave for all will bring not just social benefits, but economic ones as well in the long run.
“Personally, I think paternity leave is a leave for family harmony and humanity,” says Pan. Everybody benefits: fathers can be a part of the baby’s first days of life; mothers can have better rest and recovery; corporations can keep their skilled employees; society benefits from a higher fertility rate to balance the ageing population.
“It is a triple-win situation,” said Dr Pan.