Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to maternity, Hong Kong should feel ashamed of trailing the international standard.

Even China and Japan offer 14 weeks of maternity leave, compared with only 10 weeks in Hong Kong. Some European countries offer employees at least half a year.  

It is nice to see the bar has been lifted up, however – thanks to two British banks.

After HSBC in Hong Kong upped its maternity leave to 14 weeks, from 12, last May, Standard Chartered this week further extended its provision to 20 weeks.

Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) chief executive Mary Huen Wai-yi said: “We are proud to be one of the leaders to substantially extend the maternity leave and promote greater flexibility and work-life balance in the workplace.

“By taking care of our employees’ well-being and adding some human touch to our two policies, we truly believe both our employees and Standard Chartered as an employer will enjoy intrinsic benefits, thus achieving a win-win situation.”

It was perhaps not a coincidence that the decision came right after the promotion of a female chief executive: Huen took over office this month. Diana Cesar took over the top job at HSBC in Hong Kong in October 2015.

Last year, the International Labour ­Organisation found that only quarter of the 26 countries in Asia met the international standard for maternity leave, offering an average of 12.7 weeks.

In its report on “Maternity and Paternity at work, Law and practice across the world,” the body said 74 of the 167 sampled countries, or 45%, provided cash benefits of at least two-thirds of earnings for at least 14 weeks.

According to the law of Hong Kong, new-born mothers are entitled to 10 weeks’ leave – and fathers a mere three days.

Stanchart also upgraded paternity leave to two full weeks from one.

One reason for such a generous increases at Stanchart was, we understand, a human resources reshuffle within the group. British female employees were shocked to find that the Hong Kong operation only offered 12 weeks, compared to up to 52 weeks in their home country.

They would probably be even more shocked, then, by the provision in other Asian countries – such as Taiwan, where maternity leave is a mere eight weeks.

The fight for longer maternity (and paternity) leave is likely to gather more momentum. China, after all, wants people to have more babies – and if you want that to happen, you need to provide incentives.