Equal Opportunities Commission


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The EOC announces findings of “Sexual Harassment and Discrimination in Employment – Questionnaire Survey For Workers of Service Industries”


The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today (Thursday, 22 May 2014) announced the findings of the “Sexual Harassment and Discrimination – Questionnaire Survey for Workers of Service Industries”, which was conducted in partnership with the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCFU) from November 2013 to March 2014.

The Survey was composed of both quantitative and qualitative elements. The quantitative study consisted of 472 returned questionnaires, representing a response rate of about 8%, sent out through HKFTU and HKCFU to 6,000 workers of the service sector covering the retail / catering / healthcare and nursing industries. The qualitative study consisted of interviews with two female employees working separately in two bars conducted in March 2014 with the support of the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association.

The quantitative study revealed that almost one-fifth or 19% (72) of the respondents had been sexually harassed when they were at work in the last twelve months, while about 6% (21) indicated that they had either witnessed or heard about complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Convenor of the EOC’s Policy and Research Committee, Dr. John TSE Wing-ling, said, “It is worrying that sexual harassment has become part of the working culture of the service industries. For example, service workers generally do not treat telling unwelcome and sex jokes as sexual harassment. The statistics indicate that the longer the employees are in the service industries, the more they are adapted to the industries’ unique setting and accept sexual harassment as part and parcel of their jobs.”

“This phenomenon could be attributed to the lack of company policy statement and training against sexual harassment for employees of the service industries. The statistics consistently indicate that 90% of the respondents had not received any training on preventing sexual harassment and 83% of them either did not perceive or were not aware of a relevant policy statement in their companies,” explained Dr. TSE.

“Workers in the service sector, especially those in precarious employment such as part-time or temporary jobs, are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment as they possess less power and have fewer protections in the workplace. It is also less likely for them to report harassment given the insecurity of their jobs,” Dr. TSE pointed out.

In cases of sexual harassment experienced by workers of service industries, most of the alleged harassers were colleagues of the same rank (39%) and customers (28%). Other alleged harassers are the superiors (23%) and subordinates (9%).

A higher occurrence of sexual harassment was observed in the industries of community/social/personal services (25%) and caring services (22%). The victims are mostly front-line workers who have frequent contacts with customers and co-workers. The more contact that the service workers have with the customers, the more likely they are to encounter sexual harassment.
Coherently, the qualitative study suggested that sexual harassment was part of the everyday life of bar workers. Sexual harassment experienced by bar workers was mostly from customers in the forms of physical touch and suggestive remarks or offensive comments about their appearance.

The Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) stipulates that it is unlawful for a service provider to sexually harass a customer. 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 speed up the process of amending the SDO protect service providers against sexual harassment by customers or clients in the workplace. The legislative amendment will provide important protections for workers in the service sector, including waiters/waitresses, cashiers, sales agents, health workers and flight attendants,” Dr. TSE reiterated.

Dr. TSE remarked, “Sexual harassment can happen at any business and its consequences can be very costly to an employer. Through the formulation of an effective sexual harassment policy and the adoption of preventive measures, a company can provide a safe and harassment-free environment for both their employees and customers. It helps promote good reputation and image of the company and makes good business sense.”

Sexual Harassment and Discrimination in Employment – Questionnaire Survey for Workers of Service Industries: Summary of Survey Findings

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Equal Opportunities Commission
22 May 2014