The EOC announces findings of the “Study on Discrimination in the Hong Kong Workplace”
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today (4 September 2014) announced the findings of the “Study on Discrimination in the Hong Kong Workplace”, which was conducted to assess the types and extent of workplace discrimination, identify the common forms of stereotyping, and solicit views from employers and employees on the effective ways to redress the problems.
The exploratory study was both quantitative and qualitative, with data collected from January to April 2014. The quantitative part consisted of a random sampling of 2,008 successful household telephone interviews. The qualitative part included 18 one-to-one in-depth interviews with employees who had encountered various forms of discrimination / harassment; as well as focus group discussions with employers and human resources (HR) practitioners of SMEs1 , MLEs2 and four multi-national / listed companies with a company size of over 500 employees.
Is there workplace discrimination in Hong Kong ?
The telephone survey revealed that 18% of the respondents alleged to have experienced discrimination or harassment when seeking a job or at work. Among them, the most common type of discrimination encountered was age discrimination (64%). The median age of the respondents was in the range of 40 to 49. Other types of discrimination / harassment encountered are related to gender (21%), sexual harassment (17%), family status (14%), pregnancy (10%), marital status (9%) and the status of being new immigrants (11%).
The statistics showed that 57% of workplace discrimination occurred in SMEs, while 38% of the incidents occurred in MLEs; and 14% in companies with more than 500 employees.
When discrimination was analyzed in terms of business sector, 19% of the employees in wholesale and import/export trade had encountered discrimination, followed by retail (16%), finance, insurance, real estate and business services (16%), as well as community, social and personal services (16%).
Convenor of the EOC’s Policy and Research Committee, Dr. John TSE Wing-ling, said, “The high rate of discrimination in the workplace is alarming and unacceptable. It is unlawful. That is why our city has put into place four anti-discrimination ordinances to protect employees from job discrimination on the grounds of gender, pregnancy, marital status, disability, race, and family status, as well as different forms of harassment. In future, the Government should consider conducting more public education and promotion for employers, particularly for SMEs, so as to prevent age discrimination.”
The 18 in-depth individual interviews with employees revealed that the companies at which discrimination / harassment took place were mostly locally based or subsidiaries of foreign companies without policies or guidelines on preventing discrimination.
Most of the victims had no intention to lodge a complaint to the company management or the EOC as they considered that such actions would be unable to redress the problem. Some of them wanted to avoid being labeled as trouble-makers. The telephone survey suggested that 94% of those who had encountered discrimination did not take any action for the reason that they “will not take it seriously as it is common in the workplace” and such actions “could not help”.
Dr. TSE noted, “As suggested in the survey, enhancing our public education and publicity on anti-discrimination is of vital importance. These efforts should be geared towards promoting a more positive attitude for lodging complaints when cases of discrimination occur in the workplace, and providing relevant training for the management and HR staff of the companies.”
The focus groups and in-depth interviews with employers and HR practitioners highlighted that the SMEs had relatively lower awareness and less knowledge of the anti-discrimination legislation, while the MLEs and multi-national / listed corporations were well aware of these ordinances. In the process of staff recruitment, SMEs and MLEs admitted that biases and preferences was unavoidable, while multi-national / listed corporations expected that candidates should be selected based on their abilities and experience.
Evidently, multi-national and large corporations have more resources in building an inclusive working environment and providing an equal opportunities workplace for their employees. Conversely, small businesses have little incentive to promote inclusion and equality for disadvantaged people, such as hiring people with disabilities, due to limited resources. According to the survey, they prefer practical support from the Government, such as subsidy of wages and providing necessary facilities or equipment.
Dr. TSE emphasized, “Discrimination in the workplace can affect staff morale, which directly impacts work performance. Consequently, preventing discriminatory practices that impact the workplace is to the advantage of a business. It will mean higher profits in the long run by increasing productivity, as well as avoiding the expenses due to staff turnover and retraining, and bad publicity.”
“Creating an equitable and fair work environment that embraces the differences of people not only improves the competitiveness of the company, but also provides a major boost for the economy and builds a better Hong Kong,” he remarked.
Study on Discrimination in the Hong Kong Workplace
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Equal Opportunities Commission
4 September 2014
 Small and medium enterprises (company size of < 50 employees)
 Medium and large enterprises (company size of > 50 to < 500 employees)