The Hong Kong Labour Department is slated to establish a new high-ranking post specifically responsible for national security functions, suggesting that henceforth the monitoring of trade unions will become more serious, being folded into the Department’s everyday work.
‘Strengthen the Monitoring and Management of Trade Unions’
On 8 July 2022, the Hong Kong Legislative Council’s Finance Committee approved the allocation of funds for establishing the post of Chief Director of Labour Affairs, with a monthly salary of HKD 150,000 to 165,000, each term lasting three years.
The new post will mainly be responsible for leading the Registry of Trade Unions and strengthen the guidance, supervision and regulation over trade unions according to the National Security Law. Government documents also indicated that the Registry is responsible for ‘promoting national security education to raise awareness of trade union officials and staff about national security and their obligation to abide by the law’. The specific content of the work will involve the monitoring of unions, requesting that those unions suspected of participation in activities divergent from their charters respond and submit materials, considering the rejection or cancellation of union registration on the basis of national security, and ‘monitoring proactively the activities of trade unions that are suspected to be inconsistent with TUO and their constitutions, and undertaking timely follow-up’.
‘Refute any unfounded accusations’ on the international level
It is worth noting that one of the duties of this new Chief Director of Labour Affairs post is to draft government responses ‘refute any unfounded accusations’ on the international level. The documents that the government submitted to the Legislative Council pointed out that some organisations concerned with the situation of union rights in Hong Kong have stated that the SAR Government has violated international labour conventions, so the Registry of Trade Unions must ‘clarify its position, promptly clearing up misunderstandings and debunking false accusations’.
Over 120 Unions Disbanded Since 2021
Since the Hong Kong National Security Law went into effect, many unions have received letters and warnings from the Registry of Trade Unions accusing them of participating in activities inappropriate for unions, and even more union officials have been accused of sedition. A white terror spread throughout society, leading to a massive wave of union dissolutions. The most recent Labour Department documents reveal that since 2021, over 120 unions have applied to disband or rescind their registration, over 40 times the number that did so during the Anti-Extradition Movement.
‘The role of the official who will serve this post will be equivalent to a ‘party committee secretary’ for the Labour Department, requiring the official to closely monitor and control everything the unions do; after the new official assumes office, in order to score points with superiors, they will be more likely to undertake major actions to investigate or clamp down on union organisations accused of breaking the rules’. said Siu-Tat Mung, executive director of Hong Kong Labour Rights Monitor.
As for this post’s duty to refute international accusations, Mung noted that the government has demonstrated no sincerity about following international labour conventions, having long ago established the position that all external criticisms constitute ‘false accusations’ in their eyes.