Equal Opportunities Commission


Press Releases

Press Releases

The EOC announces findings of “Sexual Harassment and Discrimination in Employment – Questionnaire Survey for Flight Attendants”


The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today (Thursday, 20 February 2014) announced the findings of the “Sexual Harassment and Discrimination – Questionnaire Survey for Flight Attendants”, which was conducted in partnership with the Hong Kong Flight Attendants Alliance (HKFAA) from late November 2013 to early January 2014. The Survey was based on 392 returned questionnaires which were distributed to 9,000 flight attendants through HKFAA.

The Survey revealed that 27% (106) of the respondents had been sexually harassed when they were on duty in-flight in the last twelve months, while about 47% (185) indicated that they had either witnessed or heard about their colleagues being sexually harassed in-flight. Broken down by gender, 86% (337) of the respondents were female and 14% (53) were male. Among the female respondents, 29% (97) of them expressed that they had been sexually harassed in their work settings in the past year, compared to 17% (9) of the male respondents who had encountered sexual harassment.

As defined by the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO), sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature directed at the victim, in which a reasonable person would anticipate the victim to feel offended, humiliated or intimidated ; or any conduct of a sexual nature creating a sexually hostile work environment such as displaying pornographic materials or telling sexual jokes in the workplace.

In relation to the unwelcome conducts, sexual harassment experienced by the flight attendants was mostly manifested in the form of physical contact (100 counts out of a total of 239 counts of sexual harassment allegations) such as “patting, touching, kissing or pinching”; non-verbal sex cues (76 counts) such as “staring in a sexual way”; oral / textual / electronic messages (44 counts) such as “sexual jokes and requests for sexual favours” and hostile environment (19 counts) such as “showing obscene or pornographic materials”.

Further, the Survey provided an insight into the profile of the harassers in cases of sexual harassment experienced by flight attendants. It was found that sexual harassment of flight attendants by customers (59%) was significantly more prevalent than sexual harassment by their fellow staff (41%) such as senior cabin crew and cockpit crew members. 
Convenor of the EOC’s Policy and Research Committee, Dr. John TSE Wing-ling, said, “Sexual harassment continues to be a serious issue in workplaces across Hong Kong. As evidenced in the Survey, service providers can be especially vulnerable to sexual harassment by a customer or client in the course of provision of goods and services.  
 “However, there is currently no legal provision protecting providers of goods, services and facilities against sexual harassment by their customers. In this connection, the EOC urges the Government to extend the coverage of the SDO to protect service providers against sexual harassment by customers, which the EOC has long recommended. The proposed legislative amendment has wide social implications as it applies to a spectrum of jobs in the service industries including flight attendants on Hong Kong registered aircraft, waiters/waitresses, sales agents and health workers,” said Dr. TSE.

At present, the SDO provides protection against sexual harassment in specified fields such as in employment and educational establishment. In the context of the provision of goods, facilities or services, it is unlawful for a service provider to sexually harass a customer, but not vice versa.

Based on the information released to the public, most of the international airlines have a policy statement on sexual harassment. In fact, 61% of the respondents said that their companies have a policy statement on sexual harassment, while 39% were not aware of such a policy. As regards the content of the policy, only 11% of the respondents said that the policy statement included information on the designated staff to handle complaints. 

The Survey also suggested that there was a lack of thorough training on sexual harassment for flight attendants. 68% of the respondents had not received any training on preventing sexual harassment, while only 32% had been trained mainly via the company’s online self-learning course/materials.

Among the respondents who had encountered sexual harassment when they were on duty (104 respondents ), a quarter (25%) of them did not take any actions and another quarter (25%) just mentioned it to their colleagues or relatives, whereas one-half (50%) reported the case to their senior colleagues or lodged a complaint. The general reluctance to seek help was mainly due to the thinking that it could not help and the fear that it would worsen the situation or ruin the relationship.

In this regard, Dr. TSE reiterated the importance of preventing sexual harassment in business organizations. He said, “Under the SDO, employers can be held vicariously liable for the sexual harassment acts of their employees. Companies should manage their risks prudently and take reasonably practicable steps to prevent such conducts. In providing a safe, productive and harassment-free working environment for their staff, employers will foster a successful business environment.”
In conclusion, Dr. TSE said, “Eradicating sexual harassment from our workplaces will require collaboration among all sectors in the community. As the Government has already agreed to the EOC’s recommendations, we look forward to seeing the relevant legislative amendments promptly enacted. Furthermore, the EOC will continue to work actively towards raising the level of awareness of the negative consequences of sexual harassment and engaging the stakeholders in relevant training programmes.”

For media enquiry, please contact Ms. Mariana LAW at 2106-2226.

Equal Opportunities Commission
20 February 2014

[1] 2 of the respondents who indicated that they had experienced sexual harassment at work did not answer the question on their actions taken.