EOC Chairperson's End of Term Review
Speaking to the news media at the end of her one year term as Chairperson of the EOC, Mrs. Patricia Chu said it has been a challenging year for the EOC, as everyone has contributed to undertake the tasks that was pledged twelve months ago when she was appointed the Commission's Chairperson.
"Twelve months on, I believe the Commission has emerged in a much stronger position to deliver a better service to the public. Incidents which took place at the end of 2003 had highlighted public expectations of the EOC, and had affected the credibility of the Commission. From the outset, I had adopted a 3-C strategy, Consolidation, Capacity Building and Communication, and I am pleased to say that arrangements are in place to ensure that the Commission is positioned to make progress for the future," said the Chairperson.
"I wish to thank my Advisers, Professor Nelson Chow and Mrs. Laura Ling for their completion of the overall Review, which looked at our current roles and functions, work priorities, efficiency and effectiveness in order to fulfill our mission. The recommendations, have been accepted by the EOC Members. When these are implemented, it would increase our capacity and efficiency, improve transparency and public accountability," Mrs. Chu added.
The EOC has also completed its review on Human Resources Management policies, practices and procedures as a self-improvement initiative with the aim to identify HRM issues that need to be addressed. Mrs. Chu thanked Mr. Yeung Ka-sing, Professor Chan Yuk Shee and Ms. Nora Yau, who conducted the review, and she emphasized the initiatives would help to develop an able, committed and productive team, to meet the challenges ahead.
The Commission has streamlined work procedures and successfully restructured the Disability and Gender Divisions into one Operations Division, and redistributed work among various divisions to deliver services more effectively to meet the needs of the community. The impact on complaint-handling and conciliation has meant a higher conciliation rate, and the legal team has worked to provide more assistance to victims of discrimination. The EOC has collaborated with various stakeholder groups in sponsoring or organizing public education initiatives on equal opportunity, and has responded to increasing requests for training and consultancy work from both private and public corporations.
In complaint handling work, the number of people who have filed complaints for investigation and conciliation up to November this year is 406, which is comparable to 2002's annual figure of 430, and 497 for 2003 as a result of SARS. Complaints have dropped to 512 at the end of November, comparing with annual figures of 757 in 2002, and 915 in 2003. This has been attributed to a drop in multiple complaints, and the Commission has been able to achieve a higher conciliation rate of over 60%, as opposed to 53% in the previous year.
The granting of legal assistance climbed to 28 cases by the end of November, much higher than the previous records of 12 in 2002 and 23 in 2003. More respondents are now ready to settle out of court, 17 cases were settled in this manner in the past 11 months, whereas for 2003, that figure was 11. So far this year, 7 cases have been settled after legal proceedings began, compared with 5 in 2003. This reflects that more respondents are now ready to settle before going through an expensive and time consuming court action. 9 writs were issued this year, last year, 3 were issued and 6 writs were served in 2002.
"In our consideration of granting legal assistance, serious thought is given to decide whether the case raises a question of principle, whether it relates to a matter of public interest, or if a precedent or clarification of the law is required. This has proved to be an effective strategy," Mrs. Chu said.
In the past year, a Working Group composing of Members, staff of the EOC and other relevant parties has been formed to study the establishment of an EO Tribunal. Discussions have focused on the feasibility of introducing an EO tribunal in Hong Kong, and the type of tribunal which should be introduced. So far, our stakeholders are generally in favour of a tribunal, and the Working Group will continue to pursue the matter.
On the issue of the Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value (EPEV) Study, the Commission and members of the Task Force set up to advise on the study have examined its findings and recommendations. It is now in the process of mapping out a strategy to implement the principle of EPEV as enshrined in the Sex Discrimination Ordinance.
To achieve synergy and facilitate collaboration in integrating equal opportunities into the School Curriculum, the EOC had taken the lead to work with the Curriculum Development Institute and the Women's Commission. These included meetings between concerned parties to map out strategies for co-operation, arranging representatives from the EOC and the Women's Commission to meet with publishers, to enable direct dialogue and input into school book reviews.
In August 2004, a "Forum on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Universities" was co-organised by the EOC and the Women's Commission to share the findings of a study in 2003 on sexual harassment in 8 local universities. Ways to prevent sexual harassment in universities were discussed. The forum has generated awareness and follow up action for training and consultancy. As a result of these efforts, the government has recently decided to initiate to amend the Sex Discrimination Ordinance to include provisions prohibiting a "sexually hostile education environment".
On legislating against racial discrimination, Mrs. Chu said, "We have invited the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) to brief the EOC on several occasions, and shared our preliminary views with the government regarding the Consultation Paper. We also attended the Human Rights Forum and Ethnic Minorities Forum held by HAB to network with stakeholder groups and understand their stance and concerns. We shall be submitting our views on the Paper before the deadline of 8 February 2005."
Throughout the year, the Commission took steps to improve communication with its stakeholders. Views of all stakeholders including NGOs, government departments, public bodies, consulates, business sector, professional associations, labour groups and the educational sector provide the EOC with insightful ideas to enhance its work. The Commission is committed to strengthening partnerships with them, through open dialogue and effective communication. Also in the year, there was an active programme of visits, meetings, seminars and conferences, both locally and overseas.
"There are signs that the EOC is regaining its strength and the confidence of the public. Feedbacks from various quarters have been generally positive, and the amount of public support is encouraging. In the past year, we have co-operated with the media, stakeholder groups, advisory bodies and the government to promote our values. I am grateful to these community partners for their staunch support," Mrs. Chu said.
"In the years to come, the EOC has to manage an increasing workload, face budget cuts and maintain its credibility. I look forward to the findings of the Independent Panel of Inquiry which is due in February 2005. The Commission has fully co-operated with the Panel and it is of great interest for us to see its recommendations on measures to restore the EOC's credibility," Mrs. Chu added.
"I feel honoured and privileged to have the opportunity to chair the Commission and I extend my thanks to Commission Members and staff, who have dedicated their efforts to fight discrimination and promote equal opportunities," Mrs. Chu concluded.
Enquiry: Ms. Mariana Law 21062226