The Equal Opportunities Commission’s head of policy and research has blamed the government for slow progress on anti-discrimination work in Hong Kong as Chairperson Alfred Chan Cheung-ming admits that the body has limited power and cannot initiate legislative procedures.

 The equality watchdog released the findings of its periodic “Equal Opportunities Awareness Survey 2015” survey on Monday. The survey interviewed 1,500 members of the public, as well as 213 users of services provided by the Equal Opportunities Commission, to gauge the public’s attitude on discrimination issues and assess the work and effectiveness of the EOC.

“Encouragingly, the survey revealed that those aged 15-29 were more likely to have non-discriminatory attitudes. As these young people become the next generation of leaders and decision-makers, such positive attitudes can be reflected in everyday practices,” Chan said.

alfred chan cheung-ming
Alfred Chan. File Photo: i-Cable screencap.

Age discrimination & sexual harassment prevalent

However, the survey also found that nine per cent of the general public has experienced discrimination or harassment in the past year. The most common forms were age discrimination and sexual harassment, which made up 43 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively; more than half of the incidents took place in the work environment or during job applications.

Chan said another survey conducted by the equality watchdog in January on age discrimination also revealed that one-third of employed respondents said they experienced age discrimination in the last five years. Since 2013, the EOC has strengthened efforts to promote the prevention of sexual harassment in various sectors, he said.

Chan added that the survey identified issues that were of primary concern to the public, such as public access for visually-impaired people with guide dogs and support for breastfeeding in public venues, and made recommendations that are prioritised in the discrimination law review.

The Equal Opportunities Commission.

Limited power

The Equal Opportunities Commission’s Head of Policy & Research Ferrick Chu said that the watchdog has pushed for reform in the area of sexual orientation and age discrimination for a long time, but there has not yet been legislation in the area. Chu said the government is to blame for this, the Oriental Daily reported.

Chu said the EOC submitted 14 suggestions on legislation to the government in 1999, but so far only two of the laws were amended. He also said that the watchdog submitted 70 instances of review on discrimination laws at the beginning of this year, but the government still has yet to reply.

Chan admitted that the EOC does not have enough bargaining power, adding that it does not have the ability to initiate legislative procedures and can only enforce the law, RTHK reported. He also said there was a need to start consultations on legislating against sexual orientation discrimination and stressed the importance of not allowing discrimination against sexual minorities.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.