Removing race from equation |
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Removing race from equation

Published on Friday, 30 Jul 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung
Nepali security guards in Hong Kong go on strike to protest against discrimination in the workplace.
Photo: David Wong

Race discrimination is not only unlawful - it deprives the workplace of invaluable knowledge and expertise. Assumptions about a person's ability to meet specific job requirements should never be based on race - and racial stereotyping has no place in hiring decisions.

In Hong Kong, ethnic minorities form 5 per cent of the population and, as a cosmopolitan city, tolerance for diversity is a bedrock principle of our society.

Hong Kong has an obligation under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to prohibit and eliminate racial bias.

The city also enacted the Race Discrimination Ordinance, and the Employment Ordinance, to prevent racial bias in the workplace.

Maggie Wu, senior compliance officer at the Equal Opportunities Commission, says the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) is different from the other three anti-discrimination laws, in that it has adopted a more restrictive remit and definition.

"The definition of race under the RDO excludes nationality and residency status, which risks giving the false impression that these exceptions could be used to exclude people of a particular racial background by flaunting the nationality or residential status requirements," Wu explains.

In the ordinance, race is defined in broad terms to mean the race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin of a person.

Nationality, citizenship or resident status of individuals are not considered grounds for race.

Critics say the RDO is not wide-ranging enough. Mak Tak-ching, organising secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, says the government should have been a better gatekeeper to promote racial harmony and equality.

Since the RDO came into effect last July, the EOC has received 25 work-related race discrimination complaints.

Mak says sometimes statistics do not reflect the full picture.

"We handle a lot of complaints related to unequal pay due to race. For example, if the normal daily rate for a local construction worker is HK$500, a Nepalese worker will get HK$100 less. The employer often uses the language [barrier issue] as an excuse to cut wages, which is blatant discrimination," Mak says.

"We don't expect the law to do a 100 per cent job to promote [racial] equality. But the government, or the Labour Department, should at least stamp out unfair practices, and screening out discriminatory job ads will be a good starting point."

Pattie Walsh, a partner of international law firm DLA Piper Hong Kong, says in order to stay within the law, it is important for employers to have consistent and clear selection criteria, with an emphasis on transparency.

"If you are in the business of making money, you need to get the best talent from diverse backgrounds," she says. "It's not just about being altruistic, it's for practical reasons as well."

Wu agrees, saying: "Having a set of consistent selection criteria is a matter of good management practice. It helps to facilitate unbiased assessment of all candidates on their individual merits and capabilities, promotes an equitable workplace and minimise unconscious bias."

Selection criteria  

  • Draw up job-related requirements
  • Identify relevant and essential personal requirements such as education, experience, knowledge, skills and abilities
  • Ensure selection procedures are objective and clearly defined
  • If an educational qualification is essential, specify the minimum requirement
  • Consider other related requirements, such as knowledge and skills, before deciding on the type and years of experience required
  • Avoid including non-essential requirements or conditions for a job 


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