“Understanding Equal Opportunities - A Policy Statement” — Speech by Mr Michael Wong, Chairman, Equal Opportunities Commission
Dr. Patrick Ho, Secretary for Home Affairs
Friends from women's groups, rehabilitation groups, social welfare organizations, and the media,
Thank you for attending the reception of the Equal Opportunities Commission. It is indeed our honour to have Dr. Ho with us, who has taken time off from his busy schedule to be our Guest-of-Honour. On behalf of all EOC members and my staff, I would like to extend our warmest welcome and gratitude to Dr. Ho, all our friends and guests.
The concept of equal opportunities is based on mutual respect and inclusion. Equal opportunity does not mean that everyone is the same, but refers to equal opportunity in participation, based on an individual's talent and abilities. In fact, we all know that every person is different and unique. The spirit of equal opportunities protects any person from being discriminated against on the ground of irrelevant factors, such as gender or disability. What we are concerned about is to ensure that each individual is entitled to equal rights and obligations in everyday life. If we are willing to accept each other, we will be able to live in an open, harmonious and diverse society.
It has been seven years since the EOC was established in 1996. The duty of the EOC is to administer three anti-discrimination ordinances, namely, the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, Disability Discrimination Ordinance and Family Status Discrimination Ordinance. It is unlawful to discriminate against any person on the ground of his or her sex, pregnancy, marital status, disability, and family status. The areas covered by the ordinances include employment, education, provision of goods, services and facilities, and activities in clubs.
The core work of the EOC is to handle discrimination complaints under the three anti-discrimination ordinances lodged by members of the public. The EOC will endeavour to effect a settlement by conciliation. Often, litigation is not the best panacea to answer all ills. Conciliation is the best way forward in handling complaints. It can be a quick and easy way to solve disputes compared to costly and time consuming court cases. If the parties involved can face the problem in a patient, understanding and rational manner, creating a win-win situation for everyone, a mutually acceptable settlement can be reached. The EOC will move towards this direction. Only when there is no alternative, legal proceedings would then be considered.
Since the EOC began to receive complaints in September 1996, 1044 cases have been attempted for conciliation. Among these, 667 cases or over 60% were successful.
Public education is another major aspect of our work. You might agree that equal opportunity is a relatively new concept in Hong Kong. To eliminate discrimination and to promote equal opportunities may mean a change in our cultural and social values. As such, we understand the importance of public education. And in an effort to mainstream equal opportunities in the work place, we have been providing staff development programmes to those in the public and private sectors. We will continue our work to raise public awareness and acceptance of equal opportunities values and its benefits.
One recent project is Hong Kong's first "Equal Opportunities Musical", a joint effort with Radio Television Hong Kong. The public education initiative includes a series of radio programmes, featuring real life cases of disability, sex and family status discrimination. The programmes will go on air from 13 October to 24 October on RTHK Radio 2. The highlight of the project is the "EO Musical", starring famous pop singer Ms. Gigi Leung and Mr. Chris Wong at Kwai Ching Theatre on 25 October.
In order to improve communication with the public and to convey the message of equal opportunities more extensively, we are considering a newspaper column "Equal Opportunities Mail Box" to answer questions from members of the public. In addition, we are planning to join hands with organisations such as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data to promote our beliefs.
Seven years is not a long time, nor is it short. The time is right for the seven-year-old Commission to conduct a review, and improve our work for the future.
In this regard, I am pleased to announce that, with the approval of the EOC, Mrs. Patricia CHU YEUNG Pak-yu, former Deputy Director of the Social Welfare Department, and Professor CHOW Wing-sun, Chair Professor - Department of Social Work and Social Administration of the University of Hong Kong have been appointed in their own capacity as Advisers to the Chairman. Mrs. Chu and Professor Chow have already accepted the appointment. I would like to express my gratitude to them for their additional commitment and contribution to Hong Kong. Mrs. CHU and Professor CHOW need no further introduction as I am sure they are well known to you all.
Mrs. Chu and Professor Chow both face heavy tasks. Apart from reviewing the organizational structure of the EOC in order to enhance a smooth and cost effective operation, it will be important to identify a position for the Commission to formulate its future strategies. The role of the EOC, the major areas of our work and priorities in relation to the three ordinances, will be studied to improve resource allocations. Mrs. Chu and Professor Chow will also study equal opportunities legislation and its implementation in overseas jurisdictions, including countries in Asia. They will look for a plan that best suits Hong Kong and answers the needs of our society today, with a view to implement the concept of equal opportunities in a pragmatic approach.
Upon the completion of the review, Mrs. Chu and Professor Chow will hand in their report to me, before submission to the EOC for discussion and resolution.
The EOC places great value on our relationship with non-governmental organizations and the welfare sector. As the Chairman of the EOC, enhancing communication and cooperation with the disadvantaged groups is a top priority. I fully understand the difficulties faced by disadvantaged groups in employment, transport, access to facilities, services, new technology and even education. Their special needs are a particular concern to us, and in order to improve mutual communication, my colleagues and I have begun a programme of regular meetings with different groups and organisations since early September. A new hotline to receive complaints and public views has also been set up to address your needs.
In addition, since September the Commission has jointly organized a series of equal opportunities workshops with the Hong Kong Council of Social Service for non-governmental organizations. We firmly believe that if the disadvantaged groups or welfare organizations have a better understanding of the equal opportunities ordinances, it would facilitate the promotion of equal opportunities.
The Commission is committed to working closely with the disadvantaged groups, in delivering a more professional and diversified service. Just as everyone is equal before the law, every person is equal under the principles of equal opportunities.
Recent economic developments in the Mainland have forged closer ties with Hong Kong in trade as well as other areas. I believe that there is a market and practical necessity to promote the concept of equal opportunities in the Mainland. We can take advantage of the situation to develop exchanges with equivalent bodies in the Mainland such as the All-China Women's Federation and China Disabled Persons' Federation. We shall try to build on our relationships with relevant organizations in the Mainland through proactive networking, and improve our communication and cooperation with these organizations so as to promote wider recognition and achievement in equal opportunities.
At the same time, we shall maintain close contact with other equal opportunities organizations overseas to keep abreast of their development.
The EOC is conducting a review of the three ordinances, which includes a study of establishing an Equal Opportunities Tribunal. Upon the completion of the review, recommendations to amend the legislation will be made to the Government and the Legislative Council.
Achieving the concept of equal opportunities is a responsibility for everyone. We shall serve our community in a fair, sincere and open manner. We shall ensure that everyone, irrespective of whether you are a government official or an ordinary citizen, will be treated impartially.
The work of equal opportunities is a challenging task. It is about a change of mind set, and this will require years of public education to underline the values of EO and its benefits. We also have to mainstream the principle of equal opportunities into our daily lives. We are constantly reminded of these tasks and we need your support as well as the media's to create a better, more harmonious and fair society.