Phyllis Cheung, Executive Director

On Friday, it was reported that the MTR Corporation (MTRC) is considering setting up a special task force to enforce the rail operator’s by-laws, adding that it intends to recruit former Gurkhas onto the teams. The Oriental Daily quoted Jacob Kam Chak-pui, the Chief Executive Officer of the MTRC, as saying that “Nepalese do not understand Cantonese, thus they will be less provoked when people use foul language and potential conflicts can be reduced.” If his quote is accurate, Hong Kong Unison considers this to be inappropriate and unacceptable.

Jacob Kam
Jacob Kam.

The senior management of the MTRC lacks common sense and cultural sensitivity. Do they think it’s ok to be insulted or sworn at if one does not understand the language? And how could they assume all former Gurkhas do not understand Cantonese? They probably forgot that ethnic minorities have a long history in Hong Kong, and many of them are locally born and some are even 4th or 5th generation here. Although most ethnic minorities may not have mainstream Chinese proficiency, due to a flawed education system, many of them can speak and understand Chinese from daily interactions with their Chinese peers.

During disputes, angry sentiments are not only expressed via verbal communication but body language as well. Even if the former Gurkhas do not understand Cantonese, they would know they are being yelled at. When asked to abide by MTR by-laws, people may feel more frustrated towards the special task force because of the language barrier, and they may use racial slurs and derogatory and discriminatory language against them. Does the MTRC think this is an acceptable infringement of racial harmony?

September 6 protest Prince Edward MTR Mong Kok CCTV
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

It is resentful to see the MTRC use non-Chinese individuals as enforcers of by-laws to avoid their responsibilities in dealing with the current unrest. This notion is not only ridiculous but also worrying. To enforce a bylaw, MTR staff should be able to communicate clearly and explain the violations and possible penalties. Does the MTRC not understand conflicts can be resolved by communication?

Hong Kong Unison hopes the MTRC can face up to, and respond to, the current conflicts appropriately. Please do not be so naïve that hiring ethnic minorities or non-Chinese speakers as front-line staff to “protect the stations” can solve the problem.

Hong Kong Unison is a charity and NGO which advocates for policy reforms for Hong Kong's ethnic minority residents. It receives no government funding and aims to promote racial equality in the city.