Recruitment process for unit is not discriminatory

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 12:00am

I refer to the report headlined 'Language skills for race-relations unit under fire' (South China Morning Post, May 13).

Commentators quoted in the report said our requirement that applicants for jobs in the race relations unit should be able to speak and write Chinese was discriminatory.

They have the wrong end of the stick. The unit's goals are to develop the work we have been doing to address racial discrimination, promote racial harmony, and help ethnic minorities cope with life in Hong Kong. It will undertake these tasks under the direction of the Committee on the Promotion of Racial Harmony, an advisory body comprising representatives of the minorities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the Government.

Addressing discrimination and promoting harmony entails publicity and other types of public education such as outreach work in schools. It is logical that the primary target should be the majority, namely the 95 per cent of our population whose first language is Chinese. That is why the unit's staff should possess the skills to reach that target. Those include the ability to read and write Chinese. The unit will maintain a hotline for all members of the community, including ethnic minorities. It will also devise outreach and orientation programmes for non-Chinese new arrivals to ease their settlement and integration into the wider community. We recognise that it would have been useful for the team to be able to communicate in minority languages. That is why our advertisement stated that such an ability would be advantageous. Unfortunately, none of the eligible applicants offered that skill at a high level.

Nevertheless, we can cope. Experience indicates that hotlines can function well in English and Chinese (we receive several calls from Chinese speakers).

In any case, Hong Kong's minorities speak several different languages and with just four staff it would be impractical to cover all of them. If we only covered some, no doubt we would be accused of discriminating against speakers of the others.

Our approach to the language issue and related cultural nuances is to foster the formation of outreach and liaison groups among the minority communities. The unit will do that with the help of NGOs with the relevant field experience. This will be more effective than for the unit to attempt those tasks on its own.

The Chinese language requirement does not necessarily mean that the unit's staff will all be Chinese. The recruitment process is not discriminatory. But neither is it an exercise in affirmative action.

It is competitive and selection will be on merit.


for Secretary for Home Affairs