Call to curb abuse of working women

UNIONISTS and feminists yesterday called for better protection for female workers, following survey findings that nine out of 10 women claim to have been sexually harassed in the workplace.

The problem was most serious for people working in old people's homes, department stores, hotels and restaurants. Apart from employers and colleagues they also had to face another type of attacker - the client.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions last month interviewed 434 women in industries including garments, electronics, marketing, hotels, health care, education, social services and the civil service.

Results showed that 86 per cent of the interviewees said they had been sexually harassed at work in the past two years.

Health care workers were the worst victims. Of the 39 interviewees, 95 per cent said they had been sexually harassed. They were followed by saleswomen and hotel workers, where 92 per cent claimed to have been victims.

The harassment included being told dirty jokes (46 per cent), obscene anonymous phone calls (40 per cent) and unnecessary body touching or holding (35 per cent).


Winnie Tam Pik-yan, the confederation's executive secretary, urged the Government to pass an anti-sex discrimination law as soon as possible to protect women.

'We believe the problem is much more serious than revealed in the survey. Some women are shy and refused to be interviewed on the topic,' she said.

Ms Tam said although many women claimed they had been sexually harassed, few dared to lodge a complaint or report to police.

'They would turn to negative solutions such as avoiding the attackers or pretending that they did not realise they had been harassed because they feared they would lose their jobs.' Tse Woon-sung, vice-chairman of the 700-strong Personal Care Workers and Home Helpers Association, said some colleagues believed that complaining would not help much.


Ms Tse, 49, who has worked in a government-subsidised home for the elderly for nine years, said they were working in a dangerous environment.

'Very often a health care worker needs to serve an elderly person by herself. Sometimes she needs to help her clients bath or dress.


'Some clients deliberately let their genitals touch us. Others ask us to sleep with them,' she said.

'We feel angry but we have to serve them. I feel I am not being respected, let alone being protected.' The survey found that 77 per cent of the health care workers interviewed complained they had been sexually harassed by their clients. Twenty-two per cent said their clients exposed themselves deliberately and unnecessarily.

She said a clear definition of legislation on sexual harassment would encourage the victims to report incidents to police.


Cheung Lai-ha, vice-president of the Clothing Industry Workers General Union, demanded the proposed Equal Opportunities Commission enjoy statutory powers to initiate laws and investigate complaints.

The Government in June announced the anti-sex discrimination law to tackle sex discrimination in the workplace, in professional bodies and educational institutions, and cover sexual harassment and discrimination against pregnant women and single parents.

The law will be debated in the Legislative Council today and is expected to be passed by the end of this legislative year.