Our update “A Spotlight on Fathers – the Arrival of Paternity Leave” in March 2014 referred to the imminent arrival of legislation to introduce three days’ paternity leave in Hong Kong. This proposal was greeted with unanimous acclaim and was considered to be a balanced, and possibly overdue, benefit for new fathers.

As the primary terms (three days’ leave and 80 percent pay) of the benefit had already been approved at the Labour Advisory Board (the LAB is the body comprising employee and employer representatives at which “deals” are struck concerning workplace regulation) the legislation was expected to sail through the legislative process without drama.

Unfortunately even well meaning and uncontroversial legislation can get caught in Hong Kong’s highly emotional political storm.

In essence, the deal which was reached between the unions and the employers at the LAB has failed. Instead certain populist legislators have proposed amendments to the legislation at the Bills Committee stage which will increase the period of paternity leave from three days to seven days.

These “committee stage amendments” have been passed by the Bills Committee and, therefore, it will be in the revised legislation, granting seven days’ paternity leave, which will be put before the Legislative Council for consideration.

Whether the revised legislation will now achieve the necessary number of votes in LegCo must be in considerable doubt.

If it is passed in the proposed form then this will be embarrassing for the government and the cost to employers will be materially increased. In any case this ambush is likely to impact the ability of the LAB to agree to future legislative changes, even those which may appear uncontroversial, as the employer representatives will not be able to trust the employee representatives to control the politicians.

“Sign o’ the Times” is a song by Prince from the late ‘80s. It talks about AIDS (a “big disease with a little name”) and drug use. It was a precursor of what we used to call “rap” music. The song is about change and was indicative of change. The material changes to paternity leave proposed by the Bills Committee could be an indication of similar fundamental change in Hong Kong.