For discussion
on 24 June 1999

Information Paper for the LegCo Panel on Manpower
Report on Survey on Public Views on Age Discrimination in Recruitment


The Education and Manpower Bureau has commissioned a consultancy firm to conduct a survey in January 1999 on public views on age discrimination in recruitment. The survey consisted of two parts, a household telephone survey and a local recruitment advertisement study. The objectives of the household survey were:

  1. to find out public understanding and views on age discrimination in recruitment; and

  2. to gauge the public opinion on the effectiveness of the current public education programmes.
The local recruitment advertisement study was to assess the severity of the problem of age discrimination from the recruitment advertisements appearing in major local newspapers and magazines.

2. The consultancy firm has submitted the report on the survey and a copy is at the Annex. This paper gives a brief analysis of the main findings in the survey and outlines the actions taken or will be taken by the Administration to tackle age discrimination in recruitment.

Main findings in the survey

The Severity of Age Discrimination in Recruitment

3. 82% of the respondents think that age discrimination in recruitment exists in Hong Kong (Chart 11 in the report). However only 17% of the respondents are aware of age discriminatory recruitment advertisements in the past 18 months (Chart 3).

4. Among those respondents who think that age discrimination in recruitment exists, 62% regard the issue as severe in nature while 35% regard the issue as not severe (Chart 13). However, when asked to compare the situation 18 months ago, 49% of the respondents detects no change in the situation of age discrimination in recruitment, 29% think that the situation has become worse and 14% think that the situation has improved (Chart 15). Among the unemployed, 42% think that situation has not changed, 35% think that it has become worse and 16% think that it has improved (Chart 16).

5. Among those respondents who think the situation of age discrimination in recruitment has become worse, 26% of them attribute it to the poor economy which enables the employers to be more selective among the increased number of job seekers, 15% and 12% claim that employers do not employ old applicants or prefer younger applicants respectively (Chart 17).

6. 12% of the respondents consider age discrimination in recruitment to be very urgent requiring immediate action but the majority of the respondents prefer action to be taken in a step-by-step approach (35%) or the issue needs to be considered thoroughly first (31%). 22% think that the issue is not urgent and action should either be taken in the future or none at all (Chart 18). Among the unemployed, 19% of the respondents considers the situation as very urgent requiring immediate action. 39% prefer step-by-step approach and 23% wants the issue to be considered thoroughly (Chart 19).

Government measures or activities against age discrimination in recruitment

7. There is little spontaneous awareness of government activities that target age discrimination in recruitment. 84% of all respondents could not quote any relevant government activities (Chart 20). Only 9% of the respondents are spontaneously aware of Announcements of Public Interest (API). Of the three government activities or measures tested, API has the highest degree of aided awareness (71%). Awareness of "Services of the Labour Department" and "Practical Guidelines on Eliminating Age Discrimination in Employment" is only recorded among 33% and 25% of the respondents respectively (Chart 22).

8. On the perceived effectiveness of the existing government measures, 46% of those respondents who are aware of such measures opine that they are not quite effective, 35% of these respondents think that the measures are quite effective while 16% think not at all effective (Chart 26). 78% of these respondents also opine that the existing government measures are not quite or not at all adequate (Chart 28). Only 19% of the respondents think that they are quite adequate.

9. Regarding improvement for existing government measures, nearly half of the respondents (46%) who are aware of such measures fails to provide any suggestions; 30% suggest enhanced promotion through different media or television; 7% suggest introducing legislative measures while 5% suggest strengthening public education on age discrimination (Chart 30).

10. When asked on alternative measures to tackle age discrimination in recruitment, 45% of these respondents is unable to make any suggestion; 18% of them support the introduction of legislative measures while 14% is in favour of more promotional activities (Chart 32).

11. The opinions of all respondents were also sought on the effectiveness of five specific measures. 57% of the respondents opine that legislative means are effective, whilst 25% think they are not effective (Chart 39). When asked on the two measures of enhancing the services of the Labour Department and enhancing publicity through the mass media, 47% of all respondents opine that they are effective in both cases.

Findings of Local Recruitment Advertisement Study

12. The study revealed that 23.4% of the recruitment advertisements surveyed have been identified as having specific age restrictions. Such specification is more pronounced for clerical positions (36%) and service workers and shop sales persons (28%). As many of the age restrictive advertisements (55%) did not specify an industry, no industry breakdowns can be provided.

Way Forward

13. The survey results reveal that there is general perception of and concern over the existence of age discrimination in recruitment in Hong Kong. Given the perceived shortcomings in existing measures being taken to tackle the issue of age discrimination in recruitment, as well as the general support among the respondents in the survey for a step-by-step approach, the Administration has taken the following actions to enhance the existing programme of public education and publicity on the subject.

14. We have already produced a new API on age discrimination in recruitment and arrangement has been made for its broadcast on television and radio starting end June/early July 1999. This Bureau has also made a request to the Information Services Department to include age discrimination in recruitment as one of the topics in Major Publicity Campaigns for 2000/2001.

15. At the same time, Labour Department (LD) has stepped up its promotional efforts to enhance the awareness of employers on eliminating age discrimination in recruitment. Some 100,000 copies of the Practical Guidelines for Employers on Eliminating Age Discrimination in Employment have been sent out to all employers employing five employees or more since January this year. Employers are again reminded, in the Guide to Good People Management Practices (the Guide) published in May 1999 by LD, to ensure that all suitable job seekers and employees are given equal opportunities in employment and should not be discriminated, among others, on the ground of age. The Guide has been sent to all registered trade unions, employers' associations and facilitating bodies of small and medium size establishments. It is also available to the public at district offices and service outlets of LD. In July, some 100,000 copies of the Guide will be sent to all establishments employing five employees or more.

16. The LD also undertakes to continue to promote the importance of equal opportunities in employment in various activities in the coming months. The following are some of these events/activities which will be used to promote the elimination of age discrimination in employment :-

  1. Labour Relations Certificate Courses - such courses are being organised twice a month for some 50 personnel managers each. Two such courses are being held in June and another two in July.

  2. Meetings of Personnel managers' Clubs - there are 16 such clubs with some 600 personnel managers members. Each club is holding regular meetings once every two months.

  3. An article on equal opportunities in employment will be published in the "Labour Focus" in the July 1999 issue. This publication will be sent to all establishments employing five employees or more.

  4. "Know the Employment Ordinance Week" - LD will hold this event on 5-11 September 1999, and opportunity will be taken to further promote equal opportunities in employment.

  5. To promote the International Year of Older Persons 1999, LD will organise a series of exhibitions for the public. LD will make use of these exhibitions and other activities to promote equal opportunities in employment.
17. Promotion of equal opportunities in employment will also be carried out through our employment service to employers. In the Vacancy Order Forms to be completed by employers when they place orders with LD, employers are advised that they should not specify any requirements on the gender or age of the job seekers.

18. We consider that there is no immediate need for the introduction of new law against age discrimination in recruitment. We agree with the public opinion in the survey that a step-by-step approach should be taken. In this regard, we prefer to allow more time for the enhanced public education and publicity programme against age discrimination in recruitment to make an impact on public attitude. We will monitor the situation closely and in the event that the public education approach has proved to be ineffective, then the legislative alternative would be considered.

Education and Manpower Bureau
June 1999