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PathFinders survey sees negative impact of longer MDW maternity leave

16 December 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

A migrant woman and her baby given help by Pathfinders

A new four-week increase in maternity leave for Hong Kong’s working women is likely to add to the dilemma and challenges employers face when their pregnant domestic worker goes on maternity leave, a nongovernmental organization says.

The Employment (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 that came into effect on Dec 11, increased the statutory maternity leave from 10 to 14 weeks.

Working mothers are likely to welcome the new law, but a public opinion survey conducted recently by PathFinders Limited showed apprehensions about migrant workers getting pregnant in Hong Kong continue.

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The NGO said the survey results published on Dec 9 validate the need for practical solutions to ensure pregnant migrant domestic workers (MDWs) do not get fired illegally and left homeless instantly, making their children among the most vulnerable and unsupported in Hong Kong.

The survey results with 341 respondents show:

·       73.8% of the respondents believe MDWs should receive equal maternity leave

·       64.8% considered MDW pregnancy unacceptable

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·       74.4% of the respondents thought a MDW should not live with their employer during maternity leave, and

·       Most respondents like hiring of a temporary helper when their worker goes on maternity leave.

“The survey confirms the long-standing dilemma for many in Hong Kong who rely heavily on the help and support of a MDW. While the majority believe, like all working women in Hong Kong, a pregnant MDW should be entitled to maternity protection, most consider an MDW pregnancy unacceptable,” Catherine Gurtin, chief executive of PathFinders, said in a review of the survey results.


Gurtin said 50.4% of the respondents dislike the idea of their helper getting pregnant because of the inconvenience it causes the employer and their household.

“Adding to the complexity, MDWs are not legally allowed to live out and yet employers are not obligated to provide accommodation for the worker’s newborn baby,” she said.

Three quarters of the respondents did not find it feasible for MDWs to live with their employers while on maternity leave due to limited living space, Gurtin said.

Gurtin says hello to a mother and child in PathFinders' shelter

Since its founding 12 years ago, PathFinders has all too often witnessed pregnant MDWs being illegally fired or pressured to resign because the worker and employer simply didn’t know what else to do, Gurtin said.

This led to many migrant mothers and children becoming unsupported and extremely vulnerable, and in need of PathFinders’ assistance, she said.


Gurtin said most respondents indicated the most desirable option to help employers overcome challenges would be to hire a temporary helper while their MDW is on maternity leave.

However, this potential solution would require changes to the existing MDW visa policy and contractual terms before it could become a reality, Gurtin said.


Labour Department guidance confirms all employers, including employers of MDWs, may apply to the government for reimbursement of the extra four weeks of maternity leave pay. The scheme will be implemented in the first half of 2021 .

“While a welcome development for employers, PathFinders fears it will do little to mitigate the ongoing risk of a pregnant MDW being dismissed from employment,” Gurtin said.

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“For many employers, the financial stress of the remaining 10 weeks of maternity leave payments and expensive temporary support solutions, now for 14 weeks, will continue to be a very real concern – especially for those from lower-income households with limited alternative care options for young children and/or elderly parents,” she said.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

“Recognising the ongoing challenges and need for solutions, PathFinders will continue to engage different stakeholders, including employers of MDWs and members of the public, to discuss possible win-win solutions via an online forum in 2021,” Gurtin added.

She said PathFinders plans to consolidate, present and discuss these solutions with all concerned stakeholders, including the Hong Kong government. She urged the public to submit their views and recommendations to



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