Equal Opportunities Commission

Imperfect law must not stifle spirit of equality

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 October, 2008, 12:00am

The racial discrimination law that legislators approved three months ago was imperfect, despite being sorely needed for so long. What it lacks in protection, though, now has to be made up for with improvement and education. The public consultation on the section devoted to a code of practice on employment launched yesterday goes to the heart of the matter. What emerges from the process has to ensure as far as possible that all people in Hong Kong are genuinely protected against workplace bias - while at the same time not unduly interfering with legitimate business practices.

This will be challenging. No society can claim to be wholly free of discrimination, no matter how sturdy its measures guaranteeing equality may seem. With the bill lacking a proactive approach towards enforcement, it is therefore essential that the spirit of the legislation is honoured by all in the private and public sectors. Success depends on employers abiding by rules that guarantee fairness and workers being aware of their rights.

The law will be undermined if the code is taken to an unreasonable degree. There have been concerns that the new law will create a flood of litigation or that it may be abused to make unreasonable claims. It is important that it is implemented with equality firmly in mind. The Equal Opportunities Commission and the courts must take up cases judiciously.

British colonial heritage and a demand for foreign domestic workers have meant a vibrant ethnic mix. Our city has by and large been racially harmonious. We have to be careful that the code and the law of which it is a part do not negatively shift that balance. Hong Kong's strength, after all, lies in all people working together.

It is to be hoped that in little more than a year, Hong Kong will have legislation in place promising recourse to justice for people who have been discriminated against. But we must be pragmatic and sensible about how the law is improved, refined and implemented. At no time can we allow race, colour or background to get in the way of abilities, aptitude and knowledge. Our future lies in equality of opportunity and fairness for all people.