A British engineer is suing his former boss at a Hong Kong company for discrimination after he was allegedly called a ‘gweilo’, which is a pejorative term for Westerners meaning ‘ghost man’.
The British engineer has been named as Francis William Hayden and he is seeking damages and an apology from construction contractor Leighton Asia, according to the South China Morning Post
His supervisor, who has been named as Lai Chiu-nam, allegedly called him a ‘gweilo’, which is a slur used to describe Caucasians. It is reportedly widely used to describe white people in the area.
Lai reportedly told the court on Monday that he did use the Cantonese slang term, adding that it would be strange to call people ‘foreigners’ in the Hong Kong dialect.
Haden, reportedly an Australian citizen, is a specialist in blasting. He is seeking damages from the construction firm, which has overseen numerous important development projects in the region, alleging it violated the Race Discrimination Ordinance between August 2016 and February 2017. He was reportedly working on a tunnel project at the time.
The project, which has been delayed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, aims to connect the town of Tseung Kwan O with the Lam Tin area in Hong Kong.
Lai, during testimony given on the trial’s first day, said that the term ‘gweilo’ was widely used in the workplace and among all foreigners he had worked with and he had never seen anyone, including the plaintiff, ever have a problem with it.
He said: “I was born and educated in Hong Kong, and I have worked with different foreigners in the past 20 years.”
He added: “When I was working with them, I also called them ‘gweilo’. I do not find the term particularly demeaning.
“This is the habitual way we address them. It is uncommon for us to address foreigners as foreigners, which is quite odd in the Cantonese context.”
But Haden’s lawyers are reportedly arguing that there was a “general, underlying hostility towards non-Chinese employees” from the very beginning of the project and that Haden had heard the term being used in a derogatory way.
They also allege that Lai would instruct local, more junior workers to come up with safety reports, which are the responsibility, they said, that only the plaintiff could undertake.
Haden is reported as having communicated having a problem with the use of the term to Lai by email in February 2017 and was reportedly sacked a week later, with Lai saying he had been “taken aback” and had found Haden to have been “very rude”.
The trial is being presided over by Judge Herbert Au-Yeung Ho-wing and is set to go on for six days.