One in five women sexually harassed at work: survey

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 4:22am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 8:36am

One-fifth of female workers say they have been sexually harassed at work, but almost a third of these did nothing about it.

The responses emerged from a survey by the equal-rights watchdog, which also found that most of the victims came from groups long regarded as vulnerable, including retail, catering, health care and nursing workers.

"Sexual harassment remains a common occurrence in the workplace," convenor of the Equal Opportunities Commission's policy and research committee John Tse Wing-ling said yesterday.

"The data reflects that sexual harassment is a serious issue in Hong Kong. It means some people are facing it on a daily basis."

Of 472 respondents to the commission's survey, 19 per cent said they had been victims of sexual harassment before, while 6 per cent said they had witnessed it in the past 12 months.

Seventy per cent of the victims said they had taken further action against the offenders, but the rest did not.

The highest proportion of offenders - 39 per cent - were colleagues of the same rank, followed by customers, at 28 per cent. Other harassers were staff senior and junior to victims.

Most of the cases involved what the report described as "non-verbal sex cues" or body language.

Others included verbal, text or electronic messages and physical sexual behaviour.

Tse said not only young women suffered - some victims were more than 60 years old, while 21 per cent were aged 51 to 60.

Labour groups said workplace sexual harassment was a common problem, especially among workers in low-end jobs.

Yu Mei-wan, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said some women were forced to wear revealing uniforms, which made matters worse.

"Their boss often tells them that the customers are always right and it is their duty to serve them, no matter what," Yu said. "So the staff members have to tolerate such behaviour and many of these cases go unreported."

The Federation of Trade Unions called for zero tolerance of sexual harassment. It asked the commission to step up its advocacy against such behaviour.

Both union groups urged companies to set up policies to handle complaints about sexual harassment at work.