LegCo Paper No. CB(2)1667/96-97
Ref : CB2/BC/55/95
Bills Committee on the
Equal Opportunities (Family Responsibility, Sexuality & Age) Bill,
Equal Opportunities (Race) Bill and
Sex and Disability Discrimination (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 1996
Minutes of the 3rd Meeting
held on Tuesday, 11 March 1997 at 4:30 pm
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building
Members Present :
Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
Hon LAU Chin-shek
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Members Absent :
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, OBE, JP (Chairman)
Hon LAU Wong-fat, OBE, JP
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, OBE, JP
Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
Hon Christine LOH Kung-wai
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen
Attendance by Invitation :
- The British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong
- Mr Brigadier Christopher Hammerbeck CB
- Executive Director
- Federation of Hong Kong Industries
- Mr Roger TAM
- Administrative Officer
- Hong Kong Council of Social Service
- Mr CHONG Chan-yau
- Representative of the Committee on Disability
- Mrs Julie LEE
- Representative of the Committee on Disability
- Mrs TSANG WONG Wai-kuen
- Representative of the Committee on Disability
- Miss Stella HO
- Representative of the Committee on Disability
- The Hong Kong Association of Business and Professional Women (BPW)
- Ms Carole PETERSEN
- Member of Hong Kong BPWs Public Affairs Committee
- Ms Anne GODFREY
- Past President of Hong Kong BPW and Member of BPWs Public Affairs Committee
- Hong Kong Womens Coalition on Equal Opportunities
- Ms Rose WU
- General Secretary
Hong Kong Women Christian Council
- Ms LAM Wai-ha
- Representative of the Association for the Advancement of Feminism
- Movement Against Discrimination
- Mr MAK Hoi-wah
- Mr Robin ADAMS
- Mr Adam MAYES
- Personal Assistant to Hon Christine LOH
- Ms CHEUNG Yuet-fung
- Personal Assistant to Hon LAU Chin-shek
Clerk in Attendance :
- Mrs Anna LO
- Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2
Staff in Attendance :
- Mr Colin CHUI
- Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2
As the Chairman was not available for the meeting due to other commitments, the Deputy Chairman took the chair. He informed members that Mr LO Suk-ching had withdrawn from the Bills Committee with immediate effect.
I. Meeting with deputations
The British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (the Chamber)
(LegCo Paper No.CB(2) 1382/96-97(03))
2. Representative of the Chamber highlighted the following points -
- Public education was important in eliminating discrimination in areas covered in the three Bills.
- The Chamber was concerned about the lack of facilities for people with a disability to have access to premises.
- Companies with less than 20 employees should be exempted from any form of discrimination on the ground of family status.
3. On the question of the Chambers position regarding discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, representative of the Chamber said that the figures at tables 1-17 of the Administrations consultation paper on discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation clearly demonstrated a high degree of hostility towards the employment of homosexuals in Hong Kong. It ought to be illegal to discriminate against anyone on the ground of sexual orientation. There was, however, no justification to introduce legislation to force employers to employ anyone with a different sexual orientation or to accept a specific quota of homosexuals or lesbians. Mr LAU Chin-shek pointed out that the Equal Opportunities (Family Responsibility, Sexuality & Age) Bill did not seek to force employers to do so.
Federation of Hong Kong Industries (the Federation)
(LegCo Paper No.CB(2)1471/96-97(01))
4. Representative of the Federation took members through the Federations submission which explained the reasons for its objection to the three Bills.
5. On the question of existence of discrimination in Hong Kong, representative of the Federation said that, as pointed out in the Federations submission, the Federation had not found any concrete evidence to substantiate the claim that there was a significant discrimination problem in employment or other social aspects in the community. It firmly believed that legislating against a phoney problem was both illogical and wasteful. There was no need for Hong Kong to have more anti-discrimination legislation.
6. A member asked whether anti-discrimination legislation, which set a standard for people to meet, could also educate the public on anti-discrimination. Whilst maintaining that the better and more effective way to eliminate discrimination was through civic education and public campaign, representative of the Federation did not accept anti-discrimination legislation as a means of public education.
7. Regarding the difficulties faced by employers in implementing anti-discrimination legislation, representative of the Federation said that small employers, who were the majority of employers in Hong Kong, might not have resources and experience to comply with the legislative provisions such as formulating a policy to deal with discrimination.
8. Noting that the Federation supported the two codes of practices issued pursuant to the Sex Discrimination Ordinance and Disability Discrimination Ordinance for promoting equal opportunities in employment, a member asked whether it would also support other anti-discrimination legislative proposals under which similar codes of practice would be issued for the same purpose. Representative of the Federation believed that, when employers adjusted their employment practices in complying with the two codes of practice, other forms of discrimination, if existed in the employment field, would also be reduced.
Hong Kong Council of Social Service (the Council)
9. Representatives of the Councils Committee on Disability Discrimination Ordinance supported in principle the Sex and Disability Discrimination (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 1996 and briefed members on the Committees comments set out in a table attached to the letter of 14 February 1997 from the Council to the Bills Committee (LegCo Paper No. CB(2)1382/96-97(02) referred). Whilst supporting other clauses of the Bill listed in the table, the Committees position on clauses 28, 32 and 33 was as follows -
The Committees stance
As small employers needed time to adjust their employment practices in complying with the provisions of the two Ordinances, a grace period of three years for them, which would expire in July 1998, was acceptable to the Committee. It therefore had no specific views on the clause which sought to shorten the grace period to 18 months.
The Committee objected to the clause which sought to set a time limit of 28 days during which the persons might make representations to EOC in regard to the terms of reference before launching the formal investigation. There was no need to seek the consent of the accused party on the terms of reference before launching the formal investigation. There was no such consent requirement for formal investigations carried out by other law enforcement agencies. The United Kingdom experience indicated that, with such consent requirement, the formal investigation would be delayed if the accused party did not accept the terms of reference.
The Committee had no specific views on the clause.
Hong Kong Association of Business and Professional Women (BPW)
(LegCo Paper No.CB(2)1382/96-97(01))
10. Representatives of BPW went over their submission and highlighted the following -
- BPW supported the three Bills.
- BPW was particularly concerned about the existing cap on damages in SDO and supported the proposed amendment to remove the cap under the Sex and Disability Discrimination (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 1996. It also supported the proposed amendment to include reinstatement as a civil remedy under SDO.
11. Representatives of BPW considered that public education without anti-discrimination legislation had very little effect on eliminating discrimination.
12. On the question of whether the court order of reinstatement should be subject to the consent of both the employer and the aggrieved person, representatives of BPW responded that the remedy of reinstatement would not require court order if consent could be obtained from the parties concerned (particularly the employer).
13. A member asked whether removal of the cap on damages might bring about abuse of litigation. Representatives of BPW said that such abuse, which usually arose from the enormous amount of claims, might occur in the United States of America with trial by a jury but not in Hong Kong which adopted trial by a judge for cases under SDO. The member asked whether damages could be divided into two parts, the actual measurable damages and the non-measurable damages (such as injury to feelings) which should have a cap. Representatives of BPW responded that, in view of the envisaged high legal costs, damages (in particular the actual expenditure incurred) should be awarded to the aggrieved person. BPW reiterated that there should not be a cap on damages under SDO.
Hong Kong Womens Coalition on Equal Opportunities (the Coalition)
(LegCo Paper No.CB(2)1503/96-97(01) tabled at the meeting)
14. Representatives of the Coalition briefed members on their submission. The Coalition was in support of the Equal Opportunities (Family Responsibility, Sexuality & Age) Bill. It supported the Sex and Disability Discrimination (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 1996 and agreed with BPWs submission on the Bill. It also supported the Equal Opportunities (Race) Bill and would send in its submission on the Bill later.
15. On the question of the existence/seriousness of discrimination on the ground of sexuality, the Coalition considered that the majority of the public was biased against and even hostile to the homosexuals. Homosexuals were adversely affected by such discrimination. Many homosexuals were unwilling to disclose their sexuality in view of such discrimination and some of them even had the intention to commit suicide. Anti-discrimination legislation could help to eliminate discrimination in this regard. The Deputy Chairman said that about 5% of Hong Kong people were homosexuals. His study revealed that about 25% of Hong Kong people supported the Equal Opportunities (Family Responsibility, Sexuality & Age) Bill and the remaining 75% opposed it.
Movement Against Discrimination (MAD)
(LegCo Paper No.CB(2)1503/96-97(02) tabled at the meeting)
16. Representative of MAD presented his submission and stated that MAD was in support of the move to eliminate all forms of discrimination in Hong Kong and hence urged all LegCo Members to vote for the three Bills in totality.
17. On the question of the effect of decriminalisation of homosexuality on homosexuals, representative of MAD said that homosexual groups now gained a better public understanding and could face the public in fighting for their rights.
Mr Robin ADAMS
(LegCo Paper No.CB(2)1471/96-97(02))
18. Mr Robin ADAMS went over his submission regarding discrimination on the ground of sexuality. He supported the Equal Opportunities (Family Responsibility, Sexuality & Age) Bill which aimed to eliminate, inter alia, discrimination in the area of sexuality. He considered that legislation was a way to educate the public. A better public understanding of the homosexuals brought about by the decriminalisation of homosexuality demonstrated the educational effect of legislation.
19. On the question of the use of the $400,000 awarded by the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries Fund to three lesbigay groups in Hong Kong referred to in his submission, Mr ADAMS explained that the sum of money was earmarked for supporting services such as counselling service, payment of office rental and housekeeping charges etc., but not for education. Regarding the question of incorporating education on sexuality in the school curriculum, he considered that openness, acceptance and tolerance towards the homosexual community should be taught in the education system in Hong Kong. A member opined that the Administration should provide more funds to eradicate discrimination in the area of sexuality such as publishing pamphlets with the right message in place of those mentioned in Mr ADAMS submission.
20. In reply to a member, Mr ADAMS said that some big companies, like the Economist and Dow Jones, had formulated human resources policies against discrimination on the ground of sexuality for their employees in Hong Kong. He believed that Levis and Microsoft, which had formulated such policies for their employees in the United States of America, extended such policies to their employees over the world.
21. The Deputy Chairman opined that the Administration was not supportive of equal opportunities in employment. As an example, the Administration employed some 4,000 people with a disability (including 1,000 colour-blind persons) which constituted only a small percentage of the 190,000 - strong civil service. Such percentage, far below that of people with a disability in Hong Kong, showed that the Administration was unwilling to implement equal opportunities in employment.
22. On the question of the impact on homosexuals if the Bill could not get through LegCo, Mr ADAMS maintained that legislation was an effective way to eliminate discrimination in this area. Nevertheless, the homosexual community was patient to see the enactment of legislation even if it did not occur in the current session.
23. Representatives of the Coalition said that some homosexual groups did not attend the meeting as they were pessimistic that the anti-discrimination legislative proposal in this area could be enacted. If the proposal did not get through LegCo, the Administration should encourage large employers to formulate policy against discrimination on the ground of sexuality and provide more funds to assist homosexual groups. Mr ADAMS suggested the establishment of a community centre for gays and lesbians.
24. Mr LAU Chin-shek said that homosexual groups should not be pessimistic about enactment of the legislative proposal in respect of discrimination in the area of sexuality. Whilst the legislative proposal, unlike the other two proposals on family status and age, did not have a clear majority support from LegCo Members at this stage, the proposal might not be defeated.
II. Date of next meeting
25. The Deputy Chairman said that the next meeting would be held on 17 March 1997 at 4:30 pm in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building.
26. The meeting ended at 6:34 pm.
27 March 1997
Last Updated on 16 December 1998