The Hong Kong Polytechnic University will launch a disciplinary hearing over a pro-democracy lecturer’s “moonlighting” activity in which she helped a street vendor avoid eviction by government officers during the Lunar New Year holidays. The lecturer acted as a hawker selling fishballs, during which she earned HK$10.

Dr Lau Siu-lai, who teaches social sciences at the university’s community college, said she heard from top figures at the institute that its president was under pressure from the governing council to handle complaints against her.

“There should not be a case at all,” she told HKFP. She said the activity did not produce a conflict of interest with the school, and she was not undertaking any formal employment to act as a hawker.

Dr Lau Siu-lai
Dr Lau Siu-lai. Photo: Cloud.

Lau was hawking on Kweilin Street in Sham Shui Po on February 7, a day before the Lunar New Year, in support of local street vendors.

Officers in the past have often turned a blind eye to street food hawkers during the festive season, but under stricter controls this year, Lau was arrested for obstruction in a public place and for hawking and cooking food without a licence.

She was fined for HK$1,800 last week, but said she did not regret her action.

“Some staff members [of the university] also invest in the stock market to make profits,” she said. “But I did not profit from the hawking myself… not to mention that it was an act of civil disobedience.”

The HK$10 profit was donated to her “democracy classroom,” an organisation she founded with others to conduct free teaching on the streets about democratic ideals.

She added that the ban on moonlighting only applies to full-time staff member, but she was a part-time lecturer when the incident happened.

Dr Lau Siu-lai
Dr Lau Siu-lai teaching on streets. Photo: Facebook.

The highest penalty from the disciplinary hearing would be dismissal. Lau said it may not happen “based on common sense” as there should not be a case, but the ultimate result depended on who was present at the hearing.

“I like to teach, I would be sad if I cannot teach because of this case,” she said. “But I do not regret anything I did in support of grassroots hawkers. People under suppression should stand together and help each other.”

Lau is planning to run in the Legislative Council election in September.

Previously, a member of the university’s council urged the school to take action against Cheng Chung-tai, a member of the political group Civic Passion. Cheng was criticised publicly by the member for allegedly supporting and organising violent protests and advocating for Hong Kong independence, among other accusations.

Lau said the pressure laid upon her by the council was similar to what Cheng experienced. Cheng is also planning to run in the election.

A spokesperson for the Hong Kong Polytechnic University said: “There are established procedures to deal with [a] staff member who is suspected to have breached the University’s rules and regulations.  The setting up of a Staff Discipline Committee is one of the established mechanisms to deal with staff discipline case[s].”

“In line with the University’s observance of Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, we would not comment on or provide information related to individual staff’s case,” the spokesperson added.

Update 4:55pm: Polytechnic University response.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.