EOC Conducts Work Review for 2003
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) will strengthen liaison with its stakeholders and assess feedback from the community to enhance services to the public as a major work priority for 2004. During a review of the Commission's work in 2003, Mrs. Patricia CHU told members of the news media today (Thursday, 26 February 2004) that after seven years, it is timely for the EOC to conduct an overall review of its work, in order to focus on the mainstreaming of equal opportunities in Hong Kong.
Patricia CHU said, "It has been an eventful and busy year. Our work has increased substantially in terms of number of enquiries and complaints handled, initiatives in preventive and public education programmes in collaboration with stakeholder groups, and surveys to provide basis for policy formulation and priorities."
"Our complaint figures show a rising trend, with enquiries and complaints both climbing 31% over 2002. More operators are now aware of their responsibilities under the law, enquiries from employers, especially human resources managers, rose noticeably higher. However, it is of concern that dismissal of staff became more prevalent, rising by 44%, as pregnant women and disadvantaged groups bore the brunt of the dismissals."
"Last year, as Hong Kong faced the onslaught of SARS, the EOC dealt with a sudden influx of calls and complaints about possible discrimination at work and in the delivery of services. The public became more aware of our anti-discrimination laws, and that our ordinances offered protection for those who were at the receiving end of such discriminatory behaviour."
Mrs. CHU pointed out, "In handling all complaints, continuous efforts are made to reach conciliation. However, when that fails, legal action becomes our last resort. Over the years, we have developed a strategy to provide legal assistance to victims of discrimination. In our consideration to offer assistance, we would need to decide whether the case raises a question of principle, whether it relates to a matter of public interest, and if a precedent or clarification of the law is required. Last year, the Commission provided legal assistance in 20 cases, with 11 cases settled out of court."
"We always believe that prevention is better than cure. Our Training and Consultancy Unit has been working closely with NGOs, educators, the business community and the government to mainstream equal opportunities. This ranges from holding workshops for social workers to improve their client services, providing e-learning for teachers on equal opportunities, developing an assessment plus information kit for SMEs and producing training modules for public servants," Patricia CHU explained. Close to 7,500 participants joined 130 training and development courses in 2003, an increase of 20% over the year before.
It was also a productive year for the Promotion and Public Education Unit. Apart from a successful TV docu-drama series on real life cases of discrimination, "A Mission for Equal Opportunities", which attracted an evening audience of 1.3 million, our school talks and drama performances also reached 60,000 participants. One very popular project was "Career Challenge 2003", which was designed to break down gender and disability stereotyping. 900 secondary school students learned from their mentors about overcoming barriers, and through the engagement developed a deeper understanding of equal opportunity issues.
A "Survey on Public Perception (2003)" regarding our work was commissioned in July last year. The key objectives of the survey were to gauge public awareness and perception of the EOC and our services, with a view for enhancement purposes. Almost 92.7% of the 2,002 respondents said they had heard of the EOC, nearly all (97.3%) felt the EOC deserved their support, and 84% thought the Commission had succeeded in enhancing public understanding of discrimination and inequality.
"The results send us a strong indication of the public's support for our work and belief in equal opportunities. The encouraging findings will assist the Commission in identifying needs and assessing our programmes and services, upon which we can adjust our planning for a more effective service and a more focused public education programme," the Chairperson stressed. "It confirms that actual involvement in the process will eventually translate to attitudinal and behavioral changes, and build towards respect for diversity and equal opportunity," Mrs. CHU explained how the survey would impact on the future work of the EOC.
In 2003, policy support and research continued to play a pivotal role in understanding the problems caused by discrimination, which would assist decision-makers in formulating new policies and solutions to effect change. Apart from the "Survey on Public Perception", during the past year, we have also released a telephone survey on "SARS-Related Difficulties in Work and Social Lives in Hong Kong", and "The Telephone Survey on Women's Knowledge of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)".
Looking ahead, the Chairperson said the EOC review, an important exercise for this year, is progressing well. "Discussions with our staff and Members, NGOs and other stakeholders are continuing. More than one hundred organizations will be consulted for their views on the Commission. It is an extensive initiative with far reaching effects, but I am sure it is well worth the effort of all those concerned." The EOC review is now expected to be completed by mid-year. The review looks at our current role, work efficiency and effectiveness, as well as how best to fulfill our mission. The study is designed to map out future directions and priorities, with enhanced corporate governance to deliver our targets. Meanwhile plans are being drawn up for appointing independent members to a Review Committee to look into Human Resources Management, Polices, Practices and Procedures, with a view to strengthening our capacity to deliver the work of the EOC.
"We will also examine the possibility of setting up a tribunal to handle discrimination cases, offering a less time consuming and non-adversarial way to settle complaints." The Chairperson added, "So far, there is general support for the principle of setting up a tribunal. However, we need to identify a model that suits the Hong Kong situation. In the process, we will look into different models such as the powers of the tribunal and where it should be placed."
Another major task in the year is to participate actively in the discussions on the introduction of the Race Discrimination Bill, and the role of the EOC in its implementation. Mrs. CHU emphasized that Hong Kong, as an international city needs to show a commitment to protect everyone from discrimination and harassment, regardless of his or her race. Such protection means safeguarding access to basic rights such as education, employment and accommodation.
In conclusion, Patricia CHU said, "2004 will be a significant year for the Commission. Our current priorities are geared for consolidation and capacity building. As we undertake these tasks, we shall report to the public on our progress, which is the key to evolvement of a greater degree of transparency and public accountability."
Work Plan for 2004
Performance at a Glance Statistical Representation for 2003
Enquiry: Ms. Mariana LAW 21062226