The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) published its concluding observations on the policy review of the Hong Kong government on 30 May 2023. It expressed concern over government for its shortcomings in the following three areas related to women’s participation in public life and employment:
Low participation in political and public life
The Committee expressed concern over the low representation of women in Hong Kong’s political sphere, where women account for only 18% of the members in the Legislative Council, Executive Council, and the Office of the Chief Executive. It further noted that no Hong Kong woman has been appointed as a permanent Justice on the Court of Final Appeal. In addition, the planned march organized by Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association on International Women’s Day was canceled, after the police cited security reasons.
- Introduce temporary measures, such as quotas or a parity system, to promote women’s representation in Hong Kong’s political life.
- Take into consideration the paramount importance of the right of peaceful assembly and refrain from over-prioritizing public order and security concerns when considering restrictions on democratic manifestations such as the annual Labour and Women’s Rights and Gender Equality March.
Persistent gender pay gap
The committee notes with concern the persistent gender pay gap despite the inclusion of the principle of equal pay for work of equal value in the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) and the issuance of guidelines for employers to enhance their understanding on the concept.
- Strengthen efforts to eliminate the gender pay gap by conducting regular gender pay reviews in all sectors, including the public sector, in collaboration with employers’ associations and trade unions.
- Enact legislation requiring employers to take proactive measures to prevent and address workplace sexual harassment.
Foreign domestic workers are exploited with abusive measures
The Committee highlighted discriminatory practices faced by female foreign domestic workers, including:
- Exploitative wages and unfavorable working conditions.
- Abusive practices by recruitment agencies, such as charging excessive fees and confiscation of passports and travel documents.
- The requirement for domestic workers to leave Hong Kong within two weeks of contract completion or termination.
- The live-in rule mandating domestic workers to reside with their employers.
- Restrictions on changing employers within the first two years of the contract, except in cases of abuse or exploitation.
- Amend legislation to enhance protection against discrimination and abuse for female foreign domestic workers, including increasing labor inspections in private households and effectively investigating and punishing exploitative and abusive practices by employers.
- Extend the time frame for domestic workers to leave Hong Kong to ensure they have sufficient time to search for new employment or seek unpaid salary claims against former employers.
- Repeal the live-in rule or provide domestic workers the right to choose alternative accommodation arrangements.
- Align legislation with the International Labour Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189).
- Ensure timely follow-up by the labour department on complaints filed by migrant domestic workers regarding abuse or exploitation.
Hong Kong Labour Rights Monitor submitted a parallel report to the committee in April, 2023. You can read the full submission here.