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Hong Kong Employment Law Alert - February 2020
Submitted by // P Yeung, Partner
12 February 2020

 

Hong Kong's Employment (Amendment) Bill 2019 Gazetted

On 27 December 2019, the Hong Kong SAR Government gazetted the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2019. The purpose of the Bill is to amend the maternity benefits for female employees who are employed under a continuous contract. The changes seek to bring Hong Kong in line with the International Labour Organisation standards, which provide for a minimum maternity leave period of 14 weeks.

The Bill proposes the following changes to the statutory maternity leave protections as provided for in the Employment Ordinance (Cap. 57):

  • Increase of statutory maternity leave from 10 weeks to 14 weeks. 
  • The additional four weeks' maternity leave pay will continue to be calculated at four-fifths of the employee's average daily wages, subject to a cap of HK$36,822 per employee (the cap is essentially equivalent to four-fifths of the wages of an employee with a monthly wage of HK$50,000 in four weeks). While the cap is stipulated in the Bill, the employer is not prohibited from paying a higher amount to the employee under the contract of employment. The current proposal is that the additional four weeks' statutory maternity leave pay will be reimbursed by the Government to employers by way of an administrative scheme. 
  • Shortening the period of pregnancy mentioned in the definition of "miscarriage" from 28 weeks to 24 weeks (which means that a female employee whose child is incapable of survival after being born at or after 24 weeks of pregnancy may be eligible for statutory maternity leave if other conditions are satisfied).
  • The acceptance of a certificate of attendance as proof for entitlement to sickness allowance for a day on which a female employee attends a medical examination in relation to her pregnancy (in contrast with the current position which requires a medical certificate). 
The Bill was introduced into the Legislative Council for First Reading on 8 January 2020, with the Secretary for Labour and Welfare commenting that the changes, if accepted, could take effect by the end of 2021.

Chief Executive announced plans to increase progressively the number of statutory holidays

On 14 January 2020, the Hong Kong SAR's Chief Executive announced plans to increase the number of statutory holidays per year from 12 days to 17 days, subject to discussions with the business sector. At present, employees in Hong Kong, in particular the white-collar workers enjoy 17 general holidays per year, while the blue-collar workers, are entitled to 12 statutory holidays per year.

According to a Press Release issued by the Hong Kong SAR Government, this initiative aims to address society's longstanding concern about unfair treatment, in which there are different numbers of holidays for different employees. The Government will ask the Labour Advisory Board to work out a proposal to increase progressively the number of statutory holidays so that it is eventually on par with the number of public holidays. It is estimated that more than one million employees in Hong Kong will benefit from the proposal.

Hong Kong's Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Bill 2020 Gazetted

On 31 January 2020, the Hong Kong SAR Government gazetted the Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Bill 2020. The purpose of the Bill is to provide breastfeeding women with protection from harassment by amending the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 480) ("SDO") to make it unlawful for a person to harass a breastfeeding woman.
 
  • Expanding the definition of "harass" in the SDO to comprise both sexual harassment and harassment of breastfeeding women. 
  • Adding a new section to the SDO which sets out the meaning of harassment of a woman on the ground that the woman is breastfeeding.
  • Amending certain provisions in the SDO that only refer to sexual harassment so that such provisions apply in relation to both sexual harassment and harassment of breastfeeding women.
The Bill is expected to be introduced into the Legislative Council for First and Second Reading on 12 February 2020.

The EOC believes that the Bill will strengthen legal safeguards for the right to breastfeed, and help empower women to nourish their children without fear and intimidation.

 

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