Hong Kong’s equality watchdog is pressing on with proposals to plug loopholes in the city’s sexual harassment law, with its head shrugging off talk that recent political changes have affected its efforts to increase protections for the vulnerable. Ricky Chu Man-kin, who chairs the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) , said the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) was in need of an amendment because current provisions did not cover some forms of harassment in common social settings. Chu said that one example meant that the law’s wording only applied to cases of “a student of an educational establishment” harassing “a woman … who is a student of the establishment”, and could not cover complaints involving students from different schools. He added that when it came to cases involving residents of subdivided flats – where as many as a dozen or more poor people share the same premises – the law only covered complaints of harassment between a tenant and landlord, but not between occupants. Such omissions in the law meant that victims of relatively minor kinds of harassment had no means of seeking redress, such as compensation or even an apology, Chu said. More severe cases, such as indecent assault and rape, were dealt with by criminal law. In an interview with the Post , Chu said the EOC wanted to plug gaps in the SDO and had submitted its recommendations to the government. The move marked a milestone for the watchdog’s anti-harassment unit, which was set up by Chu in January as he headed into the final year of his three-year term, ending in April 2022. The EOC is a statutory body that oversees the implementation of the SDO as well as disability, family status and race discrimination ordinances. It has worked towards eliminating discrimination or harassment related to gender, marital status, pregnancy, breastfeeding, disability, family status and race. The EOC received 19,308 inquiries and carried out 1,179 investigations in 2020 and 2021. Separately, 887 complaints were concluded over the same period, including 155 which proceeded to conciliation. The success rate for conciliation was 84 per cent – or 130 cases – compared to 70 per cent over 2019-2020. About half of Hongkongers say discrimination is prevalent in city: survey The introduction of the national security law in June 2021, banning acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, affected civil society organisations in the city, including some fighting for the rights of various groups. Some groups had broken up, while others concerned about the rights of minorities, for example, have kept their heads down. But Chu, a former director of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, said the EOC had remained on course to do its work. “Strictly speaking, issues of discrimination, belief, disability, racial, sex or family status should be apolitical, shouldn’t they? This has more to do with community welfare, equality and treating every person the same,” he said. He revealed however that some concern groups and contacts the EOC previously worked with no longer existed, although he did not name them. But Chu said he was confident that “new groups will emerge” from the 90 newly elected members of Hong Kong’s revamped and enlarged Legislative Council packed with Beijing loyalists. He added that lawmakers’ views on discrimination changed every time there was a new Legco. The EOC chief said the body was still committed to driving change and had completed drafting amendments to ensure equality for sexual minorities. A second draft would be open to public consultation once reviews were completed, he added, although he did not say when that would happen. Chu said the changes would not come as a stand-alone ordinance, as some in the city’s LGBT community had preferred, but would be incorporated into the SDO, focusing on equal rights to education, employment and access to facilities. In November, the commission revealed that it had proposed changes to expand the Race Discrimination Ordinance to protect mainland Chinese living in Hong Kong, after they had faced hostility amid the 2019 anti-government protest. The proposed changes also included protecting Hongkongers from discrimination by mainland Chinese. Chu said the EOC had held discussions with the Department of Justice and Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, and the authorities had agreed to keep the law mostly civil rather than criminal, except in serious cases, and the draft bill could be ready for Legco’s scrutiny by as early as next July. In the past three years, the commission had also pushed for a Racial Diversity and Inclusion Charter to protect members of ethnic minority groups in the workplace. So far, 200 employers in the city, including the Post , have already signed on as charter members. Don’t be passive in the face of discrimination – Hong Kong NGO’s campaign Chu said the charter aimed at tackling “micro-aggression” experienced by ethnic minority employees. The term refers to unfriendly behaviour or even unintended ignorance against minority cultures. He added that he never forgot how, as a young officer at the anti-corruption commission almost 30 years ago, he served ham sandwiches to visiting Malaysian Muslim guests from Malaysia, who could not eat pork. “As individuals, particularly in the workplace, we need to train ourselves and gain knowledge to understand ethnic minorities, whether they are from Hong Kong or from overseas,” he said. The commission has been organising workshops for charter signatories to raise awareness of various cultural behaviours and possible unconscious biases. One issue the workshop highlighted to employers was complaints from ethnic minority jobseekers who said they faced an obstacle when asked at interviews if they spoke Chinese. “The employer needs to ask if Chinese language proficiency is really an essential requirement,” Chu said.