Protecting pregnant contractual employees, demanding Law Chi Kwong to close legal loopholes

"Protecting pregnant contractual employees"

The Women Affairs Committee of The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) concerns with the rights of working women and advocates for gender equality at workplaces. On the eve of Woman’s Day (8th March), we gathered at the Government’s Headquarters for a petition, demanding for Law Chi Kwong, Secretary for Labour and Welfare to close loopholes in labour legislation in order to protect the rights of pregnant contractual female employees.    

Pregnant contractual employee? Risk of losing your job

It is clearly stated in the labour legislation Hong Kong that, once a pregnant employee has given notice, dismissal of the said employee is unreasonable and unlawful. According the labour legislation, employers unreasonably and unlawfully dismissing pregnant employers may be subjected to compensation up to $150000. Legislation in Hong Kong, however, does not specifically equate contract termination with contract expiration without renewal. Given such, employees whose contract expired without renewal cannot recover their losses by filing claims in accordance to the labour legislation in Hong Kong. Whilst extending statutory maternity leave to 14 weeks, it is the responsibility of the government to simultaneously close all loopholes in the labour legislation that left contractual employees unprotected. Failing to close these loopholes will give employers full power in discontinuing the renewal of contracts of pregnant employers, in turn making women childbearing age as contractual employees vulnerable in the labour market.

Now not limited to specific occupations or workplaces, employment on contractual terms is becoming a norm within the labour market.  Miss Chow and Miss Cheng, cases assisted by the HKCTU earlier, can only be deemed as the tip of the iceberg. The Women Affair Committee demanded the government to promptly revise the Employment Ordinance by closing all loopholes. Carol Ng, Chairperson of HKCTU criticized on the government’s lack of comprehensive consideration in improving labour legislations, “Employment on contractual terms has already emerged as common practice in the commercial sector—now even in the social service sector. It is an urgent responsibility of the government to close all loopholes to protect pregnant contractual workers—what good does extending statutory maternity leave do to women if the government fails to close these loopholes?”

Extending maternity leave should come with revision in Labour Ordinance

The government announced its plans to extend statutory maternity leave to 14 weeks, planning to submit the revision bill to the Legislative Council by the third quarters of 2019. The HKCTU calls for citizens’ support in this revision, and hereby demands for the government to include revisions in the Ordinance to close legal loopholes in order to protect the rights of pregnant contractual employees.

Heart breaking experiences to no longer occur in the future

Working for the same company for more than a decade, Miss Chow was promoted gradually from a clerk to the managerial level. The entire company employs on contractual terms, renewing Miss Chow’s contract every year. Upon starting her maternity leave, Miss Chow was informed of the company’s decision to not renew her contract. The sudden termination of contract left Miss Chow devastated and furious; for matters to be worse, a call to the Labour Department revealed it to be completely legal for the employer to terminate employment relations under such conditions! To Miss Chow, it is utterly unacceptable for Hong Kong—a self-claimed international city—to leave its pregnant employees with such insufficient protection.

As a long-time employee in the sector of commercial promotion, Miss Cheng left the commercial scene for social services in 2017—with a great cut in pay, determined to serve the community. She was employed at a social service organization which adopted contractual employment terms, renewed annually. Employed on contractual terms for a year, Miss Cheng’s abilities and performance at work were acknowledged by her seniors, she was also informed of her entitlement to paid maternity leave and assurance to contract renewal. To her bewilderment, she was informed of the employer’s decision to discontinue the renewal of her contract five days before her contract expires. Now heavily pregnant and forced to leave her job, Miss Cheng feels utterly helpless. Losing her job due to pregnancy had taken a heavy toll on Miss Cheng, impacting her emotions greatly.

These are just a few stories of women seeking justice for their cause, standing side by side with HKCTU in contesting for revisions to the Labour Ordinance, hoping to put an end to the unfair and unjust treatment faced by pregnant employees.

Carol Ng, Chairperson of the HKCTU lamented on the absurdity, “I was saddened to tears when listening to the experiences of Miss Chow and Miss Cheng—it dawned upon me the feeling of powerlessness and bewilderment of losing your job during your pregnancy. The International Women’s Day is approaching, just how much more tears shed by expecting mothers, how many more broken-hearted mothers does it take for the government to revise the Labour Ordinance?”            

The Women Affairs Committee of the HKCTU hereby demand Mr. Law Chi Kwong to immediately:

1) In the revision of the Labour Ordinance to extend statutory maternity leave to 14 weeks, to include legal provisions that specify the discontinuation of contract renewal to be contract termination, such that contractual employees are equally protected in terms of labour rights as their counterparts, and;

2) Reinforce efforts in communicating to employers the message of anti-discrimination concerning pregnant employees.