Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)

More work must be done to fight workplace sexual harassment

Recent survey shows an alarming lack of policies to combat the problem in workplaces, and the Equal Opportunities Commission must step up enforcement of the existing law

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 July, 2017, 1:18am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 July, 2017, 1:18am

Hong Kong may not be among the most advanced places when it comes to safeguards against sexual harassment at work. But having had in place a law and a statutory watchdog for decades, one would assume that awareness and compliance would not be a major issue. But if a survey of social service organisations is anything to go by, the situation is far from reassuring.

About half of the groups who responded have not developed a written anti-sexual harassment policy. Similarly, half of them have never provided any training to enhance staff awareness.

Most of those which said they had a policy were apparently not fully aware of the details. While they generally realised that there should be zero tolerance attitude towards sexual harassment and that the policy applied to all levels of staff, details like how to report to the personnel handling complaints and the corresponding disciplinary action for offenders were often omitted, according to the survey by the Equal Opportunities Commission.

A private sector survey by the watchdog four years ago revealed a similar trend. Of the 6,000 companies polled, only about 200 responded. While slightly more than half said they had some sort of policy, nearly half provided no details. The level of awareness still leaves a lot to be desired.

Hong Kong watchdog fears sexual harassment underreported in social service sector

The nature of social service work warrants special attention, in that many service users may be weak or handicapped, and are therefore more vulnerable to sexual harassment by carers. The low level of awareness among the management of organisations and the lack of reporting mechanisms means abuses may be tolerated or swept under the carpet. Indeed, only two of the 51 groups who replied reported such complaints in the past year, a figure described as suspiciously low by the watchdog.

That makes wider education and promotion more important. The surveys show that the fight against workplace sexual harassment is still a work in progress. While the commission is to be commended for bringing the problems into the spotlight, it needs to step up efforts on enforcement lest the law become meaningless.