The EOC announces findings of “Sexual Harassment and Discrimination in Employment – Questionnaire Survey for Foreign Domestic Workers”
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today (Thursday, 27 November 2014) announced the findings of the “Sexual Harassment and Discrimination – Questionnaire Survey for Foreign Domestic Workers”, which was conducted from 30 March to 13 April 2014.
The Survey revealed that 6.5% (60 respondents) of the foreign domestic workers had allegedly been sexually harassed at the workplace or at a work-related event in the preceding twelve months. The Survey was based on 981 completed questionnaires from 525 Filipino and 456 Indonesian domestic workers, whose average age was 35.
Sexual harassment experienced by the foreign domestic workers was mostly manifested in the form of oral/textual/electronic messages (44%), non-verbal sex cues (17%), hostile environment (17%) and physical contacts (14%). Examples of these incidents were “inappropriate staring or leering in a sexual manner” (14%), “sexually suggestive comments/jokes/name-calling” (13%), and “instructive and offensive questions about one’s sex life/physical appearance” (12%). The Survey also documented four cases of “actual or attempted rape or sexual assault”.
As defined by the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO), sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature directed at the victim, which a reasonable person would anticipate the victim to feel offended, humiliated or intimidated ; or any conduct of a sexual nature which creates a hostile environment such as displaying pornographic materials or telling sexual jokes in the workplace.
Convenor of the EOC’s Policy and Research Committee, Dr. John TSE Wing-ling, said, “Sexual harassment against foreign domestic workers is particularly alarming because these workers have to dwell with the harasser under the same roof, making it difficult for them to escape and making them prone to prolonged abuse. Unfortunately, the fear of losing their jobs and residence in Hong Kong may prevent these workers from reporting encounters of sexual harassment.”
According to the Survey, the most common alleged harassers were male employers [33%, (16)], and female employers [29%, (14)] followed by “persons living in the same household” [20%, (10)], “visiting friends/relatives of employers” [6%, (3)], and others [12%, (6)] such as “grandfather” and “employer’s staff”.
Specifically, the SDO protects foreign domestic workers from sexual harassment not only by their employers, but also by the employers’ family members and relatives residing in the same premises.
Among the respondents who had allegedly encountered sexual harassment, 23% (10) of the victims did not do anything, whereas 77% (33) took actions such as reporting to the police; or seeking help from the Consulate General and workers’ groups/associations/religious groups. For those who chose not to do anything, the main reason was the fear of losing the job.
The Survey showed that 64% (450) of the respondents had not received any information on preventing sexual harassment. Only 47% (144) of the Indonesian workers and 29% (114) of the Filipino workers indicated that they had access to such information.
When asked about the experience of other types of discrimination and harassment in the workplace, 12% (72) of the respondents stated that they had faced discrimination, of which racial discrimination [51% (59)] and age discrimination [10% (11)] were most common.
Dr. TSE remarked, “As a modern and civilized city, Hong Kong must not tolerate any form of harassment and discrimination against foreign domestic workers. Certainly, our community cannot remain silent and inactive on this issue. We have a duty to protect the rights of foreign domestic workers by providing a safe and harassment-free work environment for them.”
“In this regard, the Government, the relevant Consulates- General and employment agencies should take a proactive role in providing information and training for foreign domestic workers on preventing sexual harassment. Prospective and current employers should also be informed of their responsibility to provide a workplace free from sexual harassment, particularly a live-in environment. In this respect, the EOC has already intensified its collaboration with stakeholders and stepped up its publicity and promotion efforts through various channels to eliminate sexual harassment from our society,” he elaborated.
To conclude, Dr. TSE said, “There are currently about 320,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. In providing crucial support and care for the families, including the young and the elderly, foreign domestic workers help to relieve some of the employers’ household responsibilities and enable them to engage in their career or business development. The contribution of the foreign domestic workers should be recognized and valued; and their rights and well-being should be protected. Creating a culture of respect and fairness will not only ensure a harassment-free work environment for foreign domestic workers, but also help maintain a harmonious employer-employee relationship, which is essential for strengthening commitment and retention of workers.”
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Equal Opportunities Commission
27 November 2014