Hong Kong labour rights groups and unions have held a march and hunger strike demanding that the government restore a collective bargaining law which was repealed 20 years ago.

Twenty-five representatives from labour groups began a 30-hour hunger strike in front of the Court of Final Appeal on Sunday morning calling for the law to be reinstated. According to organisers, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), around 300 people representing around 60 unions then marched to government headquarters.

Labour groups gather in front of the Court of Final Appeal on Sunday. Photo: InMedia.

The pre-handover Legislative Council in 1997 passed a private member’s bill proposed by then-legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, but it was repealed by the new administration several months afterwards.

Lee, the confederation’s general secretary, joined the hunger strike. When the bill was repealed 20 years ago, he held a 120-hour hunger strike.

Ex-Hong Kong legislator and unionist Lee Cheuk-yan enters his second day of a five-day hunger strike July 10, 1997. Photo: AFP/Thomas Cheng.

“In Hong Kong we can form unions, but when we strike we are threatened with dismissal, so we don’t actually have the right to strike, and we don’t have the right to collective bargaining at all,” Lee told protesters on Sunday.

Photo: InMedia.

“[W]ithout collective bargaining rights, our ability to fight back is akin to [employers] forcibly twisting one arm so that we can’t retaliate.”

Lee Cheuk-yan (centre), Carol Ng (right). Photo: InMedia.

Because Hong Kong’s Employment Ordinance does not grant employees collective bargaining rights, employers have no legal responsibility to negotiate with workers or respond to their demands.

Demonstrators hold signs saying “fair.” Photo: InMedia.

Carol Ng Man-yee, chair of the HKCTU, said that employers often refuse to enter negotiations with workers on the grounds that there is no law requiring them to do so, forcing workers to resort to tactics such as striking. The goal of collective bargaining is for both sides to peacefully discuss working conditions, she said.

“If employers have a clear conscience, and do not mistreat their workers, why would they be afraid [to give workers] collective bargaining rights?”

Protesters burn a mock-up of the legal document which repealed the collective bargaining law. Photo: InMedia.

She added that the International Labour Organisation has discussed the matter with government representatives and plans to send representatives to Hong Kong next month to follow up.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.