Talk for Rotary Club of Wan Chai

平等機會委員會主席朱敏健先生致辭 (只備英文版)


A big thank-you to the Rotary Club of Wan Chai for inviting me to speak this afternoon. The EOC treasures every opportunity to connect with business, professional and community leaders like your good selves. After all, equality is easier said than done; we need committed individuals and organisations to lead by example and inspire others.

Today I will be talking about the role and functions of the EOC in Hong Kong. You will also hear from me our latest work and plans in the pipeline. I promise I won’t go over time, as I want to hear from you too – about the values we share, the opportunities for us to work closer together, and the impact we can make on Hong Kong’s equality landscape.

The EOC was established in 1996 under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance. As a statutory body, we are funded by the Government, but we have high autonomy over how to use our funds in implementing the anti-discrimination laws.

Currently, Hong Kong has four anti-discrimination ordinances in place, namely the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO), the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO), the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (FSDO), and the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO).

The law prescribes the functions we perform. Essentially, they are about: eliminating discrimination; promoting equal opportunities; investigating complaints; and reviewing the law on a regular basis. Underlying all these is a vision we have always held dear: to build a pluralistic and inclusive society where there is no discrimination, and no one is barred from enjoying equal opportunities in all areas of life.

It is worth noting that as a civil offence, discrimination is unlawful only when it takes place in the domains stated in the law, such as employment, education, provision of goods, services and facilities, etc.

Another factor is the ground of discrimination, i.e. the characteristic on which discrimination is based. The SDO, for example, prohibits discrimination based on sex, pregnancy, as well as marital status; and the RDO prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, descent, ethnic origin and national origin.

At the EOC we take a holistic approach to our fight against discrimination, one that encompasses law enforcement, prevention, and education. Enforcing the law is essential to helping victims seek redress, but at the same time we aspire to a society with fewer victims, which means fewer people breaking the law. That is why we need prevention and education – to equip different sectors with the capacity to prevent discrimination from happening in the first place, and to instil concepts of equal opportunity in the wider community.

Let me quickly go through these three areas of our work. First, we have complaint handling. In the fiscal year 2018-2019 alone, we handled over 1,300 complaints. The law stipulates that the EOC shall endeavour to first settle complaints through conciliation. And in recent years, our conciliation effort has consistently achieved a success rate of around 70%.

For years, complaints lodged under the DDO have taken up the largest share, with those under the SDO coming second. The majority of the complaints under the SDO are related to sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. It is worth noting that most of these cases took place in employment settings.

So what happens when a complaint cannot be settled through conciliation? That is when our legal service comes in. The complainant may apply for legal assistance from the EOC. To ensure fairness and objectivity, we have a dedicated committee to review the applications based on a combination of factors, such as whether the evidence is sufficiently strong, how likely the case would establish a precedent if taken to court, etc. We provide assistance to the successful applicants in different forms, from providing initial legal advice to representing them in court.

Now, I would be lying to you if I say the law is perfect as it is. Some of the ordinances, such as the SDO and DDO, were enacted more than 20 years ago (in 1995). As time goes by, some of the provisions have become outdated and need modernising. There are also areas not covered by the ordinances, leaving the community vulnerable to risks of discrimination and harassment.

To identify and fill these gaps, we submitted a report to the Government on our “Discrimination Law Review” exercise in 2016. The 73 recommendations made in the report represents a comprehensive overhaul of the anti-discrimination legislation in Hong Kong.

And the Government responded. Last December, it introduced a bill to the Legislative Council that took forward eight of our recommendations. One of these is about expanding protection from sexual, disability and racial harassment to situations involving persons who share a common workplace. Say, for example, when a promoter working on consignment at a supermarket is sexually harassed by an employee of that supermarket.

Besides pushing for legal reform, we conduct a variety of studies to get a better grasp on the forms and causes of discrimination, how prevalent it is, and what stakeholders can do to change the status quo. From inadequate barrier-free taxis on the road to kindergartens turning away ethnic minority children, we seek to assess the problem of inequality on various fronts and propose courses of action for a wide spectrum of stakeholders.

Here I would like to highlight our study on sexual harassment at local universities, published in January this year. It was the largest of its kind in Hong Kong – we surveyed over 14,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students from nine universities. As it turned out, almost one in every four students reported having experienced sexual harassment within 12 months prior to the survey. Since we released the findings this January, we have been meeting with the management of the universities to identify and prioritise preventive measures recommended in our report.

Discrimination often takes place in the workplace and during the course of providing goods, services or facilities, and therefore we organise training programmes for gatekeepers in these fields throughout the year. They may be HR practitioners, executives, managers and business owners alike. And of course, employees, too, make up a large part of our audience.

In addition to Spring and Autumn courses, we have programmes customised for individual companies. Sexual harassment has always been one of the most popular topics. This perhaps reflects a sustained eagerness among employers to learn about their liability with regard to the issue.

Obviously, our education effort does not only target businesses and organisations. We see the general public as our largest stakeholder group, as we believe in the power of the community in spreading the message of equal opportunity. Hence our emphasis on building presence across print, broadcast and online media. We achieve that by giving press interviews, launching radio programmes, posting on Facebook, producing documentaries for our YouTube channel, and through many other platforms.

We also tailor-make awareness campaigns for different segments of the community. To nurture values of diversity and inclusion among children, for instance, we collaborated with PolyU’s School of Design to publish a storybook series called “Tally & friends”. We sent the books to schools, donated copies to public libraries, and uploaded an e-book to our website. As a spin-off, we also organised a storytelling competition and a series of workshops last year.

Within the Commission, we have a dedicated unit responsible for promoting equal opportunity for ethnic minorities in three specific areas, namely employment, education and access to services. In terms of employment, for example, we launched the Racial Diversity & Inclusion Charter for Employers in August last year. To date, close to 100 organisations have signed the Charter, pledging to adopt best practices for creating a racially diverse and inclusive workplace. Signatories are entitled to feature a special logo in their job ads and marketing collaterals. Incentive schemes like this are aimed at promoting EMs’ prospects for gainful employment, and facilitating their integration into society.

I have talked a lot about the work we did recently. Now I would like to share more on our strategy for the near future and our upcoming plans. The first relates to sexual harassment. The SDO only outlaws sexual harassment in specified fields, between persons in specified relationships. In other words, there are certain scenarios currently not covered by the law. Subject to additional funding, we will set up a dedicated unit to step up the fight against sexual harassment. Armed with legal professionals and specially trained staff, it will be responsible for uncovering these protection gaps and recommending legislative amendments.

The unit would also be responsible for exploring collaboration with NGOs to establish a one-stop support platform for sexual harassment victims, providing services such as a dedicated hotline, referral to therapy and counselling support, and advice on how to lodge complaints, etc.

As for advancing equal rights of PWDs, we plan to proactively reach out to the management of organisations across different sectors to promote the adoption of universal design – not only in built environments, but also in products and services. The concept of universal design benefits PWDs as well as carers, children, parents, the elderly, transgender people, etc. 

We have also recently commissioned a study to gauge the severity and forms of stigmatisation and discrimination experienced by people with mental health issues in employment settings. We are expecting to release the findings next year, and we are confident that the data would help us make further recommendations to employers about workplace accommodation.

Meanwhile, empowering ethnic minorities remains one of our priorities. In fact, language barriers often impede access to public services for ethnic minorities. There is an urgent demand for professional, accredited interpreters who are fluent in Cantonese, English and languages commonly used by ethnic minority communities in Hong Kong, such as Nepali, Punjabi, Bahasa Indonesia and Tagalog and Hindi. We believe a formal list of accredited interpreters and translators, recognised by service providers across various industries, would go a long way towards helping us meet that demand and ensure equal access to services for ethnic minorities. As a first step to making that happen, we have been looking into different accreditation models in other regions, and we will soon wrap up the study.

On the education front, we will continue to direct our advocacy at schools in Hong Kong. With the use of audio-visual kits and online training modules, we will equip them with the capacity to promote inclusion on campus, covering everything from admission policies and uniform rules to school notices and website updates.

Another area that we aim to focus on is family status discrimination. Unlike discrimination on other grounds, family status discrimination may not be as explicit, direct and easily detected. Obviously we all have some kind of family responsibilities – we are “carers” one way or the other. But there are some groups, especially women, who are more affected by these responsibilities, being the primary caregiver of children and elderly parents.

Moving forward, we will strengthen our effort in promoting family-friendly policies among employers, such as flexi-time, quarter day leave, job-sharing, etc. We will also try to identify and publicise success stories or “role models”, so to speak, in order to demonstrate to employers that a family-friendly workplace can be a win for all.

Last but not least, anti-discrimination law is an evolving thing, if only because discrimination itself changes its forms and patterns over time. As I said from the outset, the EOC has a duty to keep under view the working of the anti-discrimination ordinances.  As they currently stand, the four ordinances do not afford protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, age or residency status. In other words, they do not offer an avenue for redress when LGBTI individuals, the elderly and new immigrants fall victim to discrimination in employment, education and provision of goods and services, among other public domains.

As an advocate for change, we at the EOC will commit ourselves to exploring ways to remedy this, examining the pros and cons of different administrative and legislative measures, and liaising with stakeholders to create the conditions favourable for progress.

With that I would like to thank you once again for giving me the opportunity today to introduce the EOC’s work and our way forward. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on our plans and vision. Thank you very much.