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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Gweilo call not a problem, court hears

People in Hong Kong are used to calling foreigners "gweilo," the colleague of a British-Australian who is suing Leighton Contractors (Asia) for discrimination testified in district court yesterday.
Francis Haden, a former manager for explosive projects, is suing Leighton Contractors for discrimination after his sacking. He claimed he was discriminated against by his colleagues who called him "gweilo" and excluded him from meetings because he does not speak Cantonese.

"Gweilo" is Cantonese slang for a foreigner and loosely translates as "white ghost."

But on the second day of a hearing before judge Herbert Au-yeung Ho-wing, Darren Grant, Haden's former colleague, testified that he did not find "gweilo" problematic.

Grant, a project manager at Leighton Contractors, said he always heard people call foreigners "gweilo" when he worked at construction sites. He said one should consider the context to determine whether the word involves race discrimination.

Grant noted that in the 12 years he has worked in Hong Kong, he did not have any issue with the term, adding that everyone is used to it and it is convenient to use.

He also said Haden did not complain to him about the use of the word then or claim he was uncomfortable with its usage.

Jan Torka, a project director who was Haden's direct-line manager then, said he was responsible for recruiting members of the blasting team, including Haden and his subordinates. He told the court he should have spent time handling the personnel problem among colleagues as it made the blasting team fail to operate well.

He also said that allowing Haden to take leave for two weeks could have worsened the problem.

Torka also said Haden was technically competent but needed to improve his communication skills. Torka said Haden's dismissal happened not because he did not understand Cantonese but because several colleagues had filed complaints against him indirectly.

Haden is seeking HK$200,000 compensation for damage to his feelings plus loss of income since he was fired in February 2017 by Leighton Asia.

He said the contractor breached the Race Discrimination Ordinance. He is also demanding a public statement and apology from Leighton. The hearing continues today.

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