If you are employed in the UK and become pregnant, you and your spouse can take almost a year off – and its even more in Sweden. Maternity can also vary from country to country.
However, in Hong Kong, parental rights still lag behind other countries, with just 10 weeks leave for new mothers and a mere three days for fathers, at four-fifths of salary.
Despite flagship employer HSBC last year improving its maternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks, and doubling paternity leave to two weeks, to bring it into line with international standards, there is no sign that Hong Kong’s Labour Department will follow that lead.
It says the current deal strikes “a reasonable balance between the interests of employers and employees”.
In terms of health care, the government health system provides comprehensive maternity care for a limited cost, providing patients are pre-registered. Private maternity care provides the additional benefit of continuity of care and greater involvement for both parents.
Tackling old mindsets
The Women’s Foundation in Hong Kong says women still face traditional mindsets in the home and in the workplace, and one issue facing big multinational employers is “finding the right balance between global policies and local cultural considerations”.
Su-Mei Thompson, the foundation’s CEO says: “One of the major contributors to the problem is Hong Kong’s Employment Ordinance, which provides for just 10 weeks of statutory maternity leave – well behind the 14-week minimum proposed by the International Labour Organization (ILO), based on considerations of maternal health and infant wellbeing.
“China is at 14 weeks and Singapore is at 16 weeks, so we think it is time Hong Kong stepped up to the plate. Hong Kong also provides for only three days of statutory paternity leave.”
She continues: “What’s interesting is that many countries and companies (like Facebook, Netflix and Microsoft) have ditched the traditional concept of maternity and paternity leave in favour of gender neutral parental leave which gives parents the choice which one of them will take the time off to care for the baby.”
As many as 61 countries allow at least 14 weeks leave on full pay, according to the ILO, the average in Asia is 12.7 weeks, while the UK (50 weeks), Australia (52) and Sweden (68) are among countries that permit parents to share the allowance and thus the duties. Funding varies, with full pay typically available only for part of the leave.
Maternity benefits in Hong Kong: What am I entitled to?
Certain conditions, such as length of employment and contract status, must be met to receive statutory maternity benefits, with maternity pay amounting to four-fifths of your average daily pay for the 12 months prior to going on leave.
If you and your employer agree, you can wait until up to two weeks before your expected due date to go on leave. Otherwise, you should start four weeks before that date. You can’t be dismissed between giving your employer notice and when you return from leave, except for serious misconduct or if you are on probation.
Maternity care in Hong Kong: What to expect
Government-funded health care includes pregnancy check-ups, tests and ultrasounds, labour, birth care and aftercare. A doctor will only deliver the baby if the case is high risk, and you may not know the doctor or midwife attending you.
In the private health system, the same doctor will care for you throughout pregnancy and in a hospital of your choice. The father is also allowed to join the mother throughout the whole process, not just in the birthing room.
Midwife and commentator Hulda Thorey says: “The government system is capable of giving excellent care for low cost and good safety. The major complaints have mostly to do with inefficient use of time, lack of communication skills and flexibility.
“Generally speaking, if you have insurance for a private hospital birth, fully covering any care, it is well worth finding a doctor and hospital that suits you. You just need to identify in advance what exactly you are looking for, and what is actually available in each one of them.”
International maternity insurance plans will normally allow you to choose your own doctor or hospital, but in busy Hong Kong you may need to decide and book as soon as pregnancy begins.
Insurers will impose a minimum 10-month waiting period for cover to begin, so the health insurance policy must be in place before you are pregnant. Basic policies may only include cover for complications in pregnancy, with fuller policies covering routine maternity care and childbirth, emergency surgical procedures, as well as cover for newborns, with varying levels of protection.