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HKFWC's Responses to Policy Address 2018

The policy address 2018 has been announced this morning. The HKFWC welcomes the policy as it contains more contents in promoting women development than before and raises suggestion to improve their livings in different areas. However, some suggestions are too vague and lack concrete plans and goals. We hope that the government can be more receptive and implement more concrete measures to build a better Hong Kong together.

 

Pushing the Development of Women

Obviously, this policy address includes more content in pushing the development of women, including extending the paid maternity leaves from 10 weeks to 14 weeks so that it is aligned with international standards, which is favourable to the recovery of pregnant women and gives them more time to take care of their babies. Other suggestions include extending paternity leave from 3 days to 5 days, improving the executive measures of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and Hospital Authority to allow for more humane arrangements to women after a miscarriage, provide free cervical cancer vaccination, increase the participation ratio of women in workplace and government committees. We welcome the new measures from the Chief Executive, which can allow for more flexible delivery preparations and improve the upward mobility of women in the workplace. We also believe the measures above are only the first step in building a women-friendly environment.  In the long term, the government should work with different organizations to improve the predicament of women and build a gender-equal society.

 

Developing Women-friendly Community

In the Policy Address, the Chief Executive mentioned that the government would include breastfeeding rooms and babysitting rooms in the conditions of land sales in the future to promote breastfeeding. We are glad that the government is willing to include women-friendly regulations in its main source of income. However, as the owner of lands in Hong Kong, the government has the ability to shoulder more responsibility in building a women-friendly community. Apart from breastfeeding rooms and babysitting rooms, childcare and elder-care facilities should also be provided to fill the existing supply gap. Take childcare services as an example, until the end of December 2017, there were only 738 quotas in the independent child centres that offer full-day childcare services. This number is way lower than the 158,500 population of corresponding ages, which means that a lot of children in need cannot use this service. The government should require more social-welfare facilities in its conditions of land sales so that the property developer can shoulder the social needs as well.

 

Planning on Childcare Services

While the policy address has raised a series of suggestions to improve childcare services, most of them are identical to the interim report in the Consultancy Study on the Long-term Development of Childcare Services of The University of Hong Kong. They are merely directional and lack concrete targets, such as "improving the manpower ratio of qualified child workers in the childcare centres" and "increasing the subsidy of childcare services". However, there is no mention of the targets of the manpower ratio and subsidy levels. Furthermore, the policy address has only reiterated that it needs to set up a planning ratio of childcare centre service quota, but this ratio had been a target for the research team since 2016. Even after two years of study, the government still cannot decide how the ratio should be set up.

 

Originally, we expected the final report of the Consultancy Study on the Long-term Development of Childcare Services or the policy address can suggest more concrete measures so that our discussion can be more specific. However, the policy address only repeated the suggestions in the powerpoint slides of the interim report consultation. The final report of the Consultancy Study on the Long-term Development of Childcare Services, originally scheduled for the end of September 2018, was not released on time either. This has greatly disappointed parents and organizations who have been concerned about childcare service development for years.

 

Enlarging the Carer's Support

The Policy Address has enhanced supports for children with special education needs, the disabled and the elderly in terms of education, employment, and geriatric care respectively. However, those who care for these people are neglected.

 

Although the government has not conducted any statistics on carers, from scattered data we can still calculate that there are hundreds of thousands of carers in Hong Kong, most of whom are women. Their needs are often neglected, which cause tremendous stress and may even affect their long-term physical and mental wellness. As a women’s organization that provides carer services, the HKFWC understands their needs and hopes the government to face them too. We suggest offering carer subsidies to ease their financial pressure and promoting respite care to let them take a rest and unwind themselves. In the long term, the government should conduct statistical analysis on carers and set up a one-stop carer support centre to offer comprehensive carer support services.

 

Releasing the Productivity of Local Women

The Policy Address has mentioned the lack of manpower faced by the elderly services industry and suggested introducing immigrant labour to meet the demand. The HKFWC believes that the government should first consider releasing the productivity of local women instead. The elderly services industry is not only facing stronger demands and a lack of manpower, but also structural problems. For example, the industry fails to cope with women's needs for flexible working hours. While immigrant workers require further training to adapt to the local environment, most women in Hong Kong already have caring experience and are familiar with local institutions. Through proper training, encouragement, and career planning, local women can make use of their extensive experience and become professional carers. This can definitely provide sufficient manpower to resolve the lack of manpower faced by the industry and enhance the quality of elderly care.

 

Setting Up the Universal Retirement Protection

The long-awaited 'abolishing MPF offsetting mechanism' is finally released. It is expected that the bill will be passed at the legislative Council before 2022 to provide better protection for retired women. However, there is still a gender pay gap in the workplace in Hong Kong. According to the Census and Statistics Department in 2017, the median earnings of women were $12,000 while those of men were $18,000, which means that even if the offsetting mechanism is abolished, women in the workplace will still have less MPF fundings to support their retirement lives than men.

 

Even women in the workforce have to face such a predicament, let alone over 640,000 unpaid family carers who are not protected by the MPF system. Only a non-means-tested, universal retirement protection scheme can truly address the retirement needs of grassroots women, which were, however, not mentioned at all in this Policy Address. The neglect of their needs is indeed worrying. The HKFWC believes that dignified retirement life is a right that every citizen deserves, regardless of their financial statuses, especially for the low-income carers who have contributed to their families.

 

Integrating the Family Policy

The government is planning to integrate the family policy, which is co-managed by the Labor and Welfare Bureau and Home Affairs Bureau, and enhance its completeness. The HKFWC welcomes the government's decision. Currently, many family policies are handled by different departments. Even the family policy that supports the same target group is managed by two bureaus, which causes additional administrative costs. Take divorced women as an example, single parent support is handled by the Labor and Welfare Bureau and alimony is managed by the Home Affairs Bureau. Divorced women have to go between different bureaus to get the support they need, which is cumbersome and time-consuming. Integrating family policies can better coordinate services and help women get pertinent support easier and faster.  However, we hope the government can listen to the opinion of the relevant sector before the integration so that it better suits the needs of women.

 

Lantau Tomorrow Vision?

As one of the highlights of the Policy Address, the Lantau Tomorrow Vision is a development project that involves the creation of a third core business district by constructing artificial islands with a total area of about 1,700 hectares through massive land reclamation in the Central Waters. From the past experience of infrastructure construction, it is expected that the artificial island will cost over hundreds of billions and may even deplete the entire fiscal reserves. Should the government implement this project, this will inevitably affect the resources allocated into other areas such as education, healthcare, social benefits, and housing. Moreover, this huge investment is tilted to the male-dominated construction industry and women will not be able to benefit from it.

 

The HKFWC has advocated sustainable development for years, which can meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. We fear that the fragile ecosystem will not be recovered once destroyed. Although the government has always talked about sustainable development, they choose economic development over sustainable development over and over again, be it the High-Speed Rail rail or the Three Runway System. What kind of environment we should give to our future generation is a question that both the government and our society should ponder on.

 

Suggestions

  • The government can go the extra mile and push forward women's development
  • The government should improve its childcare services planning, allocate resources and quotas according to the district population. Pay more attention to service time and quality.
  • Introduce flexible childcare hours to match the actual working hours of parents, especially during school holidays.
  • Enact a comprehensive carer support policy. Conduct statistical analysis on carers and set up a one-stop carer support centre to offer comprehensive carer support services. Provide carer-oriented services such as respite care and service referrals to ease their pressure. Provide subsidies to carers who have spent a certain amount of time on caring to alleviate their financial burden.
  • Set up a universal retirement system to protect the retirement lives of all citizens, including low-income women and unpaid family workers.

Media Enquiry

Ms Si-si Liu

Director

sisi.liu@womencentre.org.hk
(852) 2748 8101

Mr Alvin Chung

Senior Development Officer

alvin.chung@womencentre.org.hk
(852) 2748 8105