Equal Opportunities Commission

EOC criticised for deal with fitness centre

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 January, 2008, 12:00am

The Equal Opportunities Commission has come under fire over a deal it has struck with a fitness club to offer staff members and their families a preferential package to work out.

In a letter sent to various news media yesterday by a person claiming to be a commission staff member, it said the commission's chairman and senior management had reached a deal with California Fitness over discounted prices.

An internal commission memo was attached to the letter, detailing how commission workers and their family members could join the club for nothing, in contrast with the regular price of HK$999 for a one-year contract.

The processing fee was stated as HK$100 as against a regular fee of HK$499 and the monthly fee was HK$288 compared with HK$538 for normal users.

'In fact, there were complaints [in the past] filed to the EOC about a gym which discriminated against people with disability,' the letter read. 'If in the future, California Fitness breached EOC ordinances, would the commission deal with it in accordance with the law? It is hard to convince the public.'

Commission member Mandy Tam Heung-man voiced similar doubts.

'There might be a conflict of interest,' she said. 'And no matter what the commission does, people might question whether its judgment has been affected.'

Lo Wing-lok, another commission member, agreed.

'As a statutory body and a law enforcement agency, the EOC had better try to avoid getting involved in such deals,' he said. 'It is very easy to create a misunderstanding.'

In a statement, the EOC said it informed its staff about the discounted package this month. The plan had been offered by California Fitness to all businesses and other organisations in Taikoo Shing and Quarry Bay.

'It is not a discount especially offered to the EOC,' the statement said, adding that no one from the commission had joined California Fitness under the plan so far.

The EOC added that it did not breach any law as it could accept advantages that were also given to people outside the body.

Under the Acceptance of Advantages (Chief Executive's Permission) Notice, an officer may solicit or accept a 'restricted' advantage in his private capacity from a tradesman, company or organisation, the Civil Service Bureau said.

'However, the advantage should be equally available on equal terms to persons who are not prescribed officers and the donor should not have official dealings with the officer,' the bureau added. The EOC added that it had never dealt with any complaints against California Fitness but in the event 'we would treat every complaint fairly'.

California Fitness could not be reached last night, but a source from the company said many other organisations had struck a similar deal with the fitness centre, such as Citibank, the Hospital Authority and Hang Seng Bank.

Another California Fitness source said any individual who approached the company might also enjoy similar discounts depending on their 'bargaining power'.

'But then the period of the contract would certainly be longer,' the source said.