Aircraft sex pests set to face civil action in Hong Kong courts

Bill will make sexual harassment of a service provider illegal, even if it happens outside HK

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 2:50am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 4:25pm

Passengers who sexually harass staff on Hong Kong aircraft could soon feel the weight of local law after the government yesterday announced a bill to clamp down on mile-high sex pests.

Set to be introduced to the Legislative Council next Wednesday, the bill would make the sexual harassment of flight attendants a civil offence, with offenders liable to be brought before a court for financial damages.

The move by the government follows a survey by the Equal Opportunities Commission in February that found more than one quarter of flight attendants - both men and women - had been sexually harassed in the previous 12 months.

It also comes a little more than a month after Cathay Pacific flight attendants called on the company to redesign its uniforms, which cabin crew said were too revealing and could provoke sexual harassment.

If passed, the Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Bill 2014 would close a gap in existing regulations by making the sexual harassment of any service provider "unlawful".

"Based on recommendations made by the Equal Opportunities Commission, we propose to render any sexual harassment by customers against providers or prospective providers of goods, facilities or services unlawful," said a spokesperson for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, which is behind the bill.

Given the international nature of flight attendants' work, the bill would also cover offences committed on a Hong Kong registered ship or aircraft while outside Hong Kong, the bureau said.

Representatives from the aviation industry reacted positively to the news, with Cathay Pacific's Flight Attendants Union hailing the extra legal protection.

"About 27 per cent of flight attendants were sexually harassed last year, while 47 per cent witnessed or heard about cases of sexual harassment," union vice-chairman Julian Yau said, citing figures from the Equal Opportunities Commission study. "We're very happy to see the government wants to fix the law to cover all service providers."

Yau said he hoped the prospect of punishment would be a deterrent to would-be offenders.

"It is also good for other service providers, like waiters or waitresses," he said. "They know they are protected."