Hong Kong’s welfare minister has apologised to the city’s leader for keeping the government in the dark about his bid to fast-track legislation increasing maternity leave by four weeks.
But Law Chi-kwong on Sunday defended the move as the only way to pass the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2019 – which would extend statutory maternity leave from 10 to 14 weeks – before the end of the legislative term in July.
Law raised eyebrows in the Legislative Council by launching a motion for the bill to go before the manpower panel, instead of the House Committee for its usual scrutiny, after tabling the draft legislation on Thursday.
The committee is in deadlock after pan-democrats have refused to elect a chairman since October amid months of anti-government protests, stalling several pieces of legislation in the process.
In his blog on Sunday, Law revealed he had apologised to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and said he only learned of the trick to bypass the committee half an hour before moving the motion in the council.
He could not give notice beforehand because the exact wording of motion was drafted just six minutes before the meeting, the secretary for labour and welfare added.
“In fact, everyone in the government – except me – only learned about it after I stood up and moved the motion. I have done it before telling [others],” Law wrote.
“I could only decide to do it or leave it as time was tight … I have only reported my decision and handling, and offered my apology, to the government, including the chief executive, the next morning.”
Law said he would also say sorry to the lawmakers who were aggrieved by a motion that caught them off guard.
Pan-democrats said allowing Law’s motion would set a dangerous precedent, fearing the proposal could pave the way for the government to fast-track other unpopular bills, including the contentious national security legislation.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan, convenor of the pro-democracy bloc, said she was shocked that Law had not told the government of his move beforehand. She urged Law to retrieve his motion, which she said had violated Legco’s rules of procedure.
The minister’s proposal failed to make it to a vote at Thursday’s meeting, which was adjourned because there were not enough members present, as orchestrated by the pan-democrats.
Also writing on his blog, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has dismissed suggestions that the government should dip into its massive reserves to spend generously in the upcoming budget.
He said the government would record its first fiscal deficit for 15 years this financial year amid the recession, with the employment situation expected to deteriorate in the coming months.
“I believe no one would be willing to see government spending consistently exceed revenue,” Chan said.