Report: COVID and the National Security Law severely undermined Hong Kong’s labour rights in 2022

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Labour rights in Hong Kong were hit hard by the COVID outbreak and the National Security Law (NSL) in 2022, Hong Kong Labour Rights Monitor said in its latest report.  

Hong Kong Labour Rights Monitor published the report ‘The State of Labour in Hong Kong 2022’ today (18 May). According to the research, trade unions and labour groups have been decimated on a large scale, and civil society has been substantially undermined, making it more difficult than ever for workers to effectively influence government policy. At the same time, new labour legislations and policies implemented in response to COVID have aggravated the existing social inequities.  

‘The State of Labour in Hong Kong 2022′ examined the condition of labour rights in Hong Kong in four areas: the economy and labour market, labour legislation and policies, violations of labour standards, and trade union activities and collective workers’ actions in Hong Kong.  

In 2022, the Hong Kong government introduced several new labour legislations and policies in response to COVID. The pandemic also hampered development in other ways. Incidents such as freezing the statutory minimum wage, conveying benefits to conglomerates through the Anti-epidemic Fund and amending labour laws to weaken the protection of workers undoubtedly further exacerbated the already alarming social inequities.   

Union organisers arrested; unions dissolved  

The report also highlighted the labour rights violations in 2022 in Hong Kong, including the arrests and prosecutions of trade union leaders as well as law enforcement actions against trade unions. As of the end of 2022, six Hong Kong trade union leaders were sentenced to jail, three were detained in custody, two were released on police bail and one was discharged by the police.   

“National security” was also being weaponised as a pretext to further constrain trade union activities. The Trade Union Ordinance, for example, prohibits the use of union funds for political purposes. It also granted the Registrar of Trade Unions extensive powers to ‘supervise’ the operations and activities of trade unions.

Over one hundred labour unions opted to dissolve or cease activities in the face of rapidly worsening political conditions and the chilling effect generated by the NSL and other draconian laws. In 2021 and 2022, a total of 175 trade unions cancelled their registration through dissolution or at their own request, compared to just seven between 2018 and 2020.  

Collective actions despite obstacles  

The report also documented trade union activities and worker collective actions in 2022. Despite all the challenges, union organisers have never ceased searching for new ways to express their demands. For example, several unions and artist-cum-activist Luke Ching successfully pushed the government to include frontline subcontracted cleaning and security workers in the transport sector during the sixth round of the Anti-epidemic Fund by organising an online petition and staging protests at the government headquarters.  

Also emerging were worker-led collective actions. In 2022, Foodpanda riders in Hong Kong mobilised themselves through social media chat groups and staged two strikes, with over 1,200 riders participating in one of the strikes. In the same year, more than a dozen protests had been staged by construction site workers, primarily over wage arrears. 

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