You wouldn’t be in a minority if you had a strong sense of deja vu while watching Hong Kong employer representatives on television condemning a government proposal to increase mandatory paternity leave to five days. Paternity leave in the city is currently only three days.
Indeed, Hong Kong people have got used to a typical scenario where representatives of employers instantly raise fierce objections in a knee-jerk reaction to any proposal which might increase their operating costs the very moment the idea is put forward.
This was the case with the mandatory minimum wage, current statutory paternity leave of three days, the proposed cancellation of the offsetting mechanism of the MPF and the idea of introducing a universal pension scheme — measures aimed at affording workers their due share of benefits and retirement protection after contributing to the city’s great economic success.
Every time an employee-friendly proposal is suggested, employer representatives warn it will force many small businesses to shut down by raising their operating costs. However, the bankruptcy boom they warned about never happened after the statutory minimum wage came into force on May 1, 2011; it has subsequently been adjusted upward several times.
Implementation of the three-day paternity leave in 2015 also failed to produce the “negative impact” its opponents predicted. The addition of two days to the statutory paternity leave is unlikely to have any significant impact on businesses given that Hong Kong’s notoriously low birth rate limits the number of child births in a single company. This is not to mention that a company usually has a cohort of workers of different ages.
Rather, the implementation of paternity leave and other worker-friendly measures would go a long way in strengthening employees’ sense of belonging, their willingness to work hard and dedication. It would thus boost their productivity to the benefit of the company — as has been evidenced by many studies.
Hong Kong employers are also morally obliged to increase their paternity leave to a level more aligned with international standards. Nearly 40 countries have implemented statutory paternity leave, with advanced economies in the European Union leading the way with an average length of 1.4 weeks, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Many of Hong Kong’s neighbors in the region also have a legalized paternity leave for seven days.
Hong Kong employers should move with the times and realize that the era when businesses profited by exploiting their workers has long passed. Rather, they should shift to a model that emphasizes a win-win scenario.