For Discussion on 28 October 1996

Paper for LegCo Manpower Panel
Equal Opportunities :
Discrimination in Employment
On the Ground of Age


The purpose of this paper is to inform members of the outcome of the public consultation exercise on age discrimination in employment, and of the way forward, and to seek Members’ views on this subject.


The public consultation exercise

2. On 7 June 1996 the Government published the consultation paper "Equal Opportunities : A Study on Discrimination in Employment on the Ground of Age" to solicit public views on this subject. The public consultation paper proposed three possible broad options for public comment, i.e. -

  1. retain the status quo, and take no particular Government measures other than to monitor the situation closely and on a regular basis;
  2. introduce age discrimination legislation similar to that described in the paper; and
  3. adopt a non-legislative approach, being a combination of public education and self-regulation.

Members were briefed on the consultation paper on 24 June 1996

Outcome and assessment of the public consultation exercise

3. By the end of the two-month public consultation period, 68 submissions had been received on this subject, with the majority (48 submissions or 70%) coming from individuals. Of the group submissions, 5(7%) were from employer groups, 4(6%) from employee groups and 11(16%) from other groups, including the Democratic Party (DP) and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong. The DP submission contained some 5,000 signatures and a submission from a group of Employees Retraining Scheme retrainees contained 21 signatures. During the public consultation period, the Hon John Tse of DP carried out a survey which indicated that 57% of the respondents supported legislation to prohibit age discriminatory practices.

4. An analysis of the submissions shows that 25 (36% consisting of 20 individual submissions and 5 group submissions) supported the option of legislation, 11 (16% made up of 6 individual submissions and 5 group submissions) supported public education while 16 (24% made up of 7 individual submissions and 9 group submissions) supported a combination of public education and legislation. There were also 16 (24%, of which 15 were individual submissions) who did not express a preference either way. A detailed breakdown of the submissions is at Annex A.

5. Many who supported the legislative approach proposed that such legislation should be modelled on that in Australia and New Zealand. A number of submissions which supported the legislative approach recommended that the remit of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) could be expanded to cover this area, while those which opposed this approach considered it prudent to obtain experience from the operation of the Sex and Disability Discrimination Ordinances before considering additional equal opportunities legislation.

6. The relatively low response rate to the public consultation paper suggested that this is not a pressing issue to the community. It is also clear from the analysis in paragraphs 5 and 6 above and Annex A that the views expressed are divided. While the majority is in support of the legislative option, there is a substantial body of opinion which believes that public education and self-regulation are the answer to the problem.

7. We took into account the outcome of the public consultation exercise. We recognised the arguments for legislation, i.e. that it would:

  1. send a clear signal to the community that the Government is committed to dealing with what many regard as an important human rights issue; and
  2. help change attitudes towards employing older persons by providing legal sanctions against discrimination.

8. On the other hand, we believe that there are cogent reasons why it would not be appropriate to introduce such legislation, at least at this stage. First, discrimination on the ground of age is apparently not considered as such a serious human rights issue as discrimination on the ground of sex or disability. For example, it is not one of the common forbidden grounds in international instruments. Also, a significant number of countries (e.g. the European Community countries, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore) do not have specific age discrimination legislation.

9. Second, when we visited Australia and New Zealand, where such legislation does exist, it was made very clear that age discrimination in employment legislation is not regarded as a substitute for public education. Also, while such legislation may do away with the more blatant cases of abuse, it will neither create nor guarantee jobs.

10. Third, there is a very real risk that such legislation could lead to over-regulation and unnecessary litigation. Overseas experience suggests that this may not act in the interests of employees.

11. Finally, the employment provisions of the Disability Discrimination Ordinance and the Sex Discrimination Ordinance have not yet been implemented pending the approval of the Employment Codes of Practice. The Codes of Practice are being finalized by the EOC. We believe that it would be prudent to await the implementation of the employment sections of the two Ordinances for a period of time so as to assess their impact on employers, employees and on the community at large, before considering any additional discrimination legislation.

12. On balance, we believe that the more prudent approach, at least for the time being, is to deal with this matter through a sustained programme of publicity, public education and self-regulation.

Proposed Publicity, Public Education and Self-regulation Programme

13. As stated in paragraph 12 above, we believe the preferred option is a sustained programme of publicity, public education and self-regulation. We believe the programme should include the following elements -

    - non-statutory guidelines for employers on how to deal with recruitment and employment issues in a non-age-discriminatory manner;

    - advertisements and Announcements of Public Interest (APIs); and

    - information leaflets or publications aimed at various sectors of the public.

14. We are considering how best to draw up and implement the proposed programme. We expect to commence the programme in early 1997. Once the programme has been running for a reasonable length of time, we will evaluate it to establish whether or not public attitudes and perceptions have changed since its inception. Depending upon the result of the evaluation, we shall re-examine the question of legislation at a later date.

15. The Secretary for Education and Manpower will absorb the financial and staffing requirements arising from the proposed programme within his global allocation for 1996/97. He has secured additional resources at an estimated cost of $2 million a year to continue the programme in subsequent years.


16. Members are invited to give their views on the programme of public education, publicity and self-regulation

Education and Manpower Branch
Government Secretariat
October 1996

Annex A


Breakdown of Submissions

No. of




Individuals *


For legislation only



20 (1)


For public education only



6 (1)


For a combination of public education and legislation



7 (1)



- personal experience of
age discrimination



6 (2)

- giving example of age



5 (3)

- "age discrimination
is wrong"



3 (-)

- unintelligible



1 (1)




48 (9)

* figures in brackets denotes the respective numbers of anonymous submissions.

** these included submissions from the Democratic Party and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong. The submission from the Democratic Party contained some 5,000 signatures.

Last Updated on 21 August 1998