Maternity leave increase in Hong Kong a step closer after lawmakers back plan to fast-track legislation

Sum Lok-kei

Pro-government lawmakers in Hong Kong have backed a minister’s last minute plan to fast-track a bill to increase statutory maternity leave by four weeks.

But Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said on Thursday he had no intention of bypassing any Legislative Council procedures, despite having sought to speed up the bill’s progress in a motion last week.

“If we had a normal, functioning House Committee we wouldn’t be debating this motion,” Law said before the motion was put to vote.

Law was referring to the fact that Legco’s House Committee, which decides when the debate over a bill should resume at full council meetings, has been stopped from electing a chairman by opposition politicians.

His motion passed with the backing of 38 pro-government lawmakers, while 20 pan-democrats voted against it, and medical sector legislator Pierre Chan Pui-yin abstained.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong at the Legislative Council meeting on Thursday. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

The Employment (Amendment) Bill 2019 would extend maternity leave from 10 to 14 weeks, a policy first introduced in Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s Policy Address in 2018.

The bill was first tabled at a full council meeting on Thursday, during which a pro-government lawmaker and Law sought to fast-track it.

Law proposed that the bill be passed to Legco’s manpower panel, instead of its House Committee, for further discussion.

After the bill is discussed by the panel, it has to be brought to a full council meeting to complete the legislative process.

Pan-democrats, who were against the move, said it could set a precedent for the government to reduce scrutiny of controversial bills in the future.

Maternity leave extension will come into effect by 2021, minister says

Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, of the pro-democracy camp, questioned if Law’s move would help, and said the committee could still be without a chairman by the time the legislation passed the manpower panel.

“In simple terms, the minister had thrown this thing [to Legco] but there is no road map to what happens next,” Tam said.

He was referring to the rule that a bill is supposed to be referred to the House Committee, or a bills committee set up by the House Committee, to allow lawmakers more time to study it.

Legco rules stipulates that the chairman of the House Committee be consulted before a bill’s debate can resume at full council meetings.

But, pan-democrats have been blocking the election of a new chairman since October, and Tam said that raised questions over how a date to resume the debate could be set.

Earlier, Law proposed that all members of the House Committee should be consulted on the matter, and said the move would ensure the bill’s passage before Legco’s summer recess in July.

During the debate, Liberal Party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan said the bill was not controversial, and that the argument was over Legco procedures.

“If the secretary can clarify or promise that this arrangement is only for this bill and other bureau will not follow suit … I believe there is a better chance of easing people’s minds,” Chung said.

This article Maternity leave increase in Hong Kong a step closer after lawmakers back plan to fast-track legislation first appeared on South China Morning Post

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