Opening Ceremony of Fair Opportunity Inclusive Recruitment Fair
Co-organised by CareER and Community Business

平等機會委員會主席朱敏健先生致歡迎辭 (只備英文版)


Walter (Mr Walter TSUI, Co-founder, CareER),

Reina (Ms Reina CHENG, Chairperson, Executive Committee, CareER)

James (Mr James DOWNES, Manager, Employee Wellbeing & Disability, Community Business),

honourable guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. Thank you, CareER, for inviting me to kick off this fair. It is my first time here, and I am thrilled to see so many companies showing up for the worthwhile cause of equal opportunity.

The fair is entering its seventh edition this year, and I would like to tip my hat to CareER and Community Business for setting up this platform, where talents with disabilities and businesses committed to inclusion create value and meaning for each other. Starting up a venture like this is hard as it is, and to keep the momentum going for seven years straight is even harder, so kudos to that.

Diversity and inclusion are the latest buzzwords in business today. Increasingly, employers are realising that hiring persons with disabilities, or PWDs in short, is the economical and ethical thing to do. Why economical? For one thing, our city is facing a shrinking workforce because of an ageing population and low birth rate. According to projections by the Labour and Welfare Bureau, Hong Kong’s workforce, which stood at 3.64 million in 2017, would drop to 3.57 million by 2027. In the worst-case scenario, there would be a shortfall of more than a quarter of a million workers by 2027. Defusing this manpower crisis and maintaining productivity should be on the agenda of any forward-thinking organisation, and reaching out to untapped pools of talent – whether it is PWDs, ethnic minorities, people with family responsibilities or retirees – is now the go-to solution for more and more employers struggling with the tight labour market.

There are other reasons why it makes business sense to recruit and train talents with disabilities. When a company sees beyond differences, recognises potential and offers opportunities for everyone, it creates a culture where employees would feel appreciated, motivated and engaged. Indeed, it goes a long way towards staff retention and morale.

Meanwhile, with markets becoming more diversified and segmented, and consumer behaviour getting more complex than before, businesses across different industries are relying on innovation more than ever to cut through the clutter and get noticed by their target audience. And PWDs, who are used to navigating a world that is not always designed to suit their needs, are perhaps more sensitive to the nuances of the consumer’s journey and better equipped to tackle problems creatively. Put simply, they can be valuable assets in a customer-centric economy.

In case you know anyone who is still wondering if these arguments hold water, here are some figures worth sharing. The consulting firm Accenture surveyed 140 US companies from 2015 to 2018, and found that businesses that actively sought to employ PWDs outperformed those that did not – the former’s revenues were 28% higher, net income was two times more, and profit margins were higher by 30%.

Money-making aside, ensuring equal opportunity in employment for PWDs is an obligation for all of us as well. In understanding why that is so, I have always found inspiration from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of PWDs, to which Hong Kong is a ratifying party. The Convention states that “disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” In other words, disability is not a characteristic inherent in an individual; rather, it is a consequence of an unaccommodating environment and the biases of ableism. 

What we need then is a fundamental mindset shift. Instead of regarding workplace modifications, assistive devices and flexi-time policies as charitable or optional gestures to satisfy the needs of employees with disabilities, employers must see it as their duty to provide reasonable accommodation. Indeed, back in 2016, under the Discrimination Law Review, the Equal Opportunities Commission recommended that the Government amend the Disability Discrimination Ordinance by introducing a distinct duty to offer reasonable accommodation – not just in employment, but also in education, provision of goods, services and facilities, as well as management of premises. In Great Britain and some other jurisdictions, in fact, a failure to comply with such a duty constitutes a distinct form of discrimination.

For sure, small and medium-sized enterprises, who don’t have access to the resources enjoyed by many of the companies here today, are hesitant about this, mainly due to concerns over increases in operating expenses. But the beauty of the notion of reasonable accommodation is that it is flexible enough to accommodate the realities facing organisations of different scales, meaning it does not require changes that would be disproportionate – to an employer’s financial position, for instance. So, it is not about whether you can top the list of the world’s most inclusive companies; it is about whether you have made an effort where circumstances allow.

What is more, there are subsidy schemes, such as the Social Welfare Department’s Support Programme for PWDs that are devised specifically for employers who are committed to the cause but remain reluctant because of the financial burden it might bring. Suffice it to say, the belief that hiring PWDs would incur astronomical costs on business is becoming more and more a myth. And I am so glad to see so many people gathered here today, working together to shatter that myth.

Before I end, I would like to talk briefly about the work the EOC has been doing to advance employment equality for PWDs. A lot of people know about our law enforcement work, but as the sole statutory body in Hong Kong tasked with eliminating discrimination, we take a multi-pronged approach to accomplishing our mission. Research, for example, is an integral part of our work, and I am excited to share the news that we have recently commissioned two research projects, one about strategies to facilitate young PWDs’ transition from school to work, and another about the discrimination and stigmatisation experienced by persons with mental illness in the workplace. We look forward to sharing our findings with you, as these would help shed further light on barriers to career development for PWDs, and how we can knock them down.

We are also stepping up our public education effort. Collaborating with Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) Radio 1, we have rolled out a campaign about inclusion of PWDs and received the support of 22 rehabilitation groups and NGOs this year. From interviews with celebrities and segments on the daily lives of PWDs to a drama series about accessibility, our campaign sheds light on the frustrations as well as aspirations of PWDs, and will hopefully nurture a spirit of inclusivity among the wider community. In fact, as I am speaking here, my colleagues are busy preparing for an event at RTHK tomorrow. Featuring experience-sharing sessions by PWDs and performances by singers and dancers, it will be the highlight of our campaign.

With that, I would like to thank you once again for inviting me here today. To the organisations with your colourful booths in the room, I applaud you for your dedication and hope you will spread the message of inclusion far and beyond; to the bright and brave talents here, I wish you all the best landing your dream job and reaching new heights in your life and career. Thank you very much.