More than half of female employees in the service industry have been sexually harassed

HKCTU’s Survey: more than half of female employees in the service industry have been sexually harassed, lack of prevention and action from employers

The Women Affairs Committee of the HKCTU released a report on 8 March, the International Women’s Day, stating that nearly 60% of female employees in the service sector had been sexually harassed at work. It happened most frequently in three industries, namely property management, airlines and retailing. Nearly 70% of interviewees said that their workplaces have no (32%) or are not aware of (36%) any follow up mechanisms of sexual harassment complaints. As a result, only 15% of the victims reported their cases to the employers. The HKCTU hopes that this report could bring the government and employers to take the problems of sexual harassment more seriously, by strengthening education programmes and prevention measures.

[Demonstration of self defense skills]
In December 2014, the Legislative Council passed the revision of the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, which enables employees in the service industry to file a sex harassment complaint against a customer. Between January and early March 2015, the Women Affairs Committee conducted a survey and 284 valid questionnaires were collected (68% from females and 32% from males). Among them, 70% participants work with customers on a regular basis. The survey aims to investigate the presence of sexual harassment at workplaces and the employers’ awareness of their responsibility to prevent it.

Sexual harassment is common at workplaces
Nearly 60% (57%) participants reported workplace sexual harassment, with more female victims (59%) than male victims (47%). Among the various types of sexual harassment, the most common harassment from customers is “non-verbal harassment (e.g. sexually suggestive staring)”, and “verbal harassment (e.g. sexual jokes)” and “physical harassment” from colleagues.

[solidarity message from FADWU and PLU and sharing of the demand to stop abuses of migrant domestic workers in HK]

Employers are responsible for victims’ passive responses

Among the victims of sexual harassment, only 15% complained to their employers and lower than 10% reported to Equal Opportunities Commission, Police or took legal actions. Instead, victims often only told their colleagues, families and friends. 25% of victims took no actions. For those who have seen or known of sexual harassment at workplaces, only 5% would be willing to become witnesses. The main reason of their passiveness: they believe that taking action would not help.
Yu Mei-wan, chairwoman of the Women Affairs Committee points out that the survey has reflected that employers have not done enough to prevent sexual harassment at workplaces, which leave employees of the service sector very helpless after being sexually harassed, as complaining or help-seeking is made difficult. Such an irresponsibility has even encouraged sexual harassers to some extent.

Building a gender-friendly workplace

The Women Affairs Committee hopes the revised legislation to expand its coverage for workers in the service sector, the Equal Opportunities Commission to strengthen its educational programmes and the employers to take up this important responsibility. More publicity of the legislation revision and their rights should be made available to employees in the service industry. Furthermore, it is necessary to establish a complaints mechanism and to inform the customers of the zero-tolerance to sexual harassment policy.