Several more unions in Hong Kong have received warning letters from the Registry of Trade Unions, indicating suspicion that the unions violated their union charters or contravened the Trade Union Ordinances.
Activities targeted in the letters included comments on social media about: the arrest of the 47 pro-democracy figures for their participation in the pro-democracy primaries, the Hong Kong National Security Law, the Tiananmen Square Incident of 1989, and the Government’s pandemic restriction. The letters stated that if such activities involved the use of union funds, the unions would have violated the Ordinances’ prohibition on the use of union dues for political purposes. The Registry demanded that the unions in question immediately adopt measures in keeping with the Ordinances and union charters, declaring that it would not rule out the annulment of the unions’ registration.
A New Round of Warning Letters
Since the National Security Law went into effect in 2020, the Registry has sent out several rounds of letters to union organisations aimed at collecting information and conveying warning messages. In early 2022, the Labour Department acknowledged that since 2020 it had sent letters to five unions demanding that they submit documents explaining their activities that were suspected of violating the Ordinances. After receiving one of these letters, the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists was stripped of its status with the Registry last October. This June, the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance announced its dissolution. In addition, the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Hong Kong White Collar (Administrative & Clerical) Connect Union both stated that they had received such letters.
This 2022, more unions received warning letters from the Registry, including the Hong Kong Accounting Bro’Sis Labour Union (香港會計手足工會). That union announced on its Facebook page that it had received such a letter, responding, ‘Our union officials would like to thank the Registry for this reminder that we should not forget our original intention. We will continue our efforts on behalf of our members and the accounting sector’. Since then, the Registry has sent warning letters to several other unions.
Government Calls for Strengthening Enforcement
Last year, while Chris Yuk-han Sun (current Secretary of the Labour and Welfare Bureau) was serving as Labour Department Commissioner, stated in a telephone interview that the Department would strengthen its enforcement of the Trade Union Ordinances by stripping unions of their registration if they participated in activities beyond the scope specified therein. He also said that if the Department received reports that a union had commemorated the Tiananmen Square Incident, it would be required to follow up. When asked whether union commemoration of the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 violated the Ordinances, however, Sun responded that such activities were ‘patriotic events of national importance and should be observed’. Last month, the Legislative Council approved the allocation of funds for the Labour Department to establish a new post, titled Chief Director of Labour Affairs, tasked with leading the Trade Union Registry in ‘actively monitoring and collecting intelligence from’ unions.
UN Concern for Freedom of Speech and Assembly
Since the National Security Law went into effect, the Government has carried out ever more restrictions upon and surveillance of unions. Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Committee published a report on Hong Kong’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, expressing special concern for the mass dissolution of trade unions, student unions, and civil society organisations since the Law’s promulgation in 2020. The report also drew attention to the persecution of unions and civil groups on the basis of their writings or ‘speech crime’, noting that the Labour Department had used the National Security Law and the charge of ‘sedition’ to take legal actions against such organisations, and that the discourses of public safety and national security had been used to monitor student and trade unions and obtain documents from them to an excessive degree. In addition, after a series of Hong Kong-wide strikes in 2019, the Government repressed targeted unions by cancelling their registration, prosecuting their leaders, and attacking their ties with overseas labour organisations. The report stated that these were incompatible with the International Covenant’s guarantee of the freedom to assemble, and it called on the SAR Government to end its measures restricting union activities and functioning.