The Hospital Authority has told staff that went on strike over the handling of the coronavirus to explain their absence and face possible action against them.

According to the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance – a trade union registered last December – many members reported that they received emails from various human resources departments on Wednesday.

Winnie Yu, chairperson of HAEA
Winnie Yu, chairperson of HAEA at the strike protest at CE office. Photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press

“The fact that the HA continues to pay wages to you does not mean the HA waives any of its rights against you for any absence on your part from work without authorisation,” the message to staff read. “HA reserves all its rights in this matter.”

The Alliance interpreted the letter as a threat to deduct wages for the strike period in early February.

hospital authority letter

First detected in Hubei, China, more than 82,000 people globally have been infected with Covid-19, whilst over 2,800 have died from the SARS-like disease. With dozens of cases emerging in Hong Kong, medics were angered by a refusal by the government to seal border crossings with China.

The Alliance emailed a response to the Authority stating that a “strike does not mean absence from duty.” They said that they have submitted records of members who went on strike to the Authority based on the attendance taken each day “so as to safeguard the rights of our members to strike as laid down by the Basic Law.”

Article 27 of the mini-constitution states that Hong Kong residents have the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to go on strike.

Hospital Authority Employees Alliance
A motion to strike passed by Hospital Authority Employees Alliance members.

The Alliance initiated the strike between February 3 and 7 after Chief Executive Carrie Lam refused to attend the negotiations.

Aside from border closures, they urged the authorities to ensure a stable supply of medical masks and requested sufficient isolation wards, support for healthcare staff looking after patients in isolation, as well as a halt all non-emergency services.

The Authority and the Alliance had an open meeting on the first day of the strike, but the strike action escalated to a full week after the demands were left unmet.

Hospital Authority Employees Alliance
Hospital Authority Employees Alliance members on second phase strike outside Hospital Authority headquarters. Photo: Hospital Authority Employees Alliance.

The Alliance, which has 10,000 members, ended the strike action after staff voted against extending it.

The Authority said they welcomed the staff union’s decision to suspend industrial action, continue to maintain communication and dialogue with staff members and unions, try its best efforts to procure adequate protective equipment and adjust elective services to focus resources on fighting the epidemic.

Hospital Authority staff members on strike
Hospital Authority staff members on strike. File Photo: Citizen News.

“[The union] aims to protect each and every one of us against the future retaliation of our employers,” the union said after halting the strike.

Lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki from the pro-democracy Civic Party, who is also a medical doctor, told the press on Wednesday that the Authority’s actions were at odds with finance chief Paul Chan’s budget promise of retaining medical staff: “It is depressing news that the Authority has begun score-settling with the staff on strike – [it] undermines their morale.”

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.