Equal Opportunities Commission Strikes Again

The term of office of York Chow, the widely respected Chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, who had been noted for his attempts to end discrimination against Hong Kong’s LGBT community, ended in March this year. His efforts had not been universally welcomed, not least by some members of the Commission.

They were no doubt gratified that more important cases addressing the very essence, the wonton and noodles, of the issues that trouble the wider Hong Kong community were pursued despite the distractions of York Chow’s concerns. One of these, a case initiated in October last year, achieved considerable publicity, but not an end point, this week.

The Commission had received a complaint from a man who was offended that in one club he frequented, men were required to pay more for drinks than were women. Whether or not the complaint was a joke fuelled by beer is unclear. Whether the complainant had considered that many of his fellow drinkers were content with the compensatory benefits of increased female company is unknown.

Nor is it clear, though one must confess it to be highly improbable, that the Commission had considered before filing the case in the District Court that cheaper drinks for women, a common industry practice, may well be considered justice for those who are notoriously paid less than men for doing similar work. Such cases as these have wider ramifications.

Be that as it may, in the absence of a response from the owners of the club, the judge made a temporary (interlocutory) judgment against the club. Evidence was adduced that on certain nights differential entry prices for men and women were levied, favouring the latter over the former.

While legal scholars around the world await further developments, the court was informed the original claimant had dropped his demand for the club to change its policies but was instead seeking damages for his hurt feelings. Should be worth millions.

The incoming Chairman of the Commission, Professor Chan Cheung-ming, made it clear when his appointment to replace York Chow was announced that his policy emphases would be different from those of his predecessor. Doubtless, he will pleased to see the aforementioned case ultimately reach a satisfactory outcome with the cause of social justice properly served.

Pending that outcome, I have another, personal, case I wish to draw to his attention. It is a matter relevant to his professional background in gerontology and aging studies. It concerns the design and functioning of the Octopus card issued to those aged 65 and above for use on public transport.

For those unfamiliar with its design, it is green, unlike the regular card. In the bottom right-hand corner of the card’s face ELDER is printed clearly next to a line drawing of a rocking chair. Insulting enough, one may think. But there is more.
In use, when say entering the MTR, a yellow light flashes and a loud tone, unlike that for ‘normal’ passengers, is broadcast. One is thus identified as a social leper. A student card prompts the same response but I leave them to fight their own battles.

We ELDERS are a growing segment of the population and should seek changes to these card features and compensation for our injured feelings. Should be worth millions.

With cases such as these, Professor Chan has the opportunity to steer a new course for the Commission, avoiding pressures from noisy minorities while focusing on matters of grave concern to the wider Hong Kong community. Additionally, such leadership will present him with a unique opportunity: to be the first Commission Chairman to be offered by the Government a renewed contract for a second term of office.

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