A government worker says he was barred from retrieving his house keys and medication from his office following a dispute over signing a declaration of allegiance that ended in his employment being suspended. He had no choice but to sleep on the streets for two days, he said, until workers finally removed his belongings on Friday.

Mr Wu was a civil servant for over three decades and – until recently – had been working at the Environmental Protection Department’s (EPD) Wan Chai office. A government spokesperson said guards had offered to retrieve his keys and medication, but Wu declined.

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Mr. Wu. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

The 59-year-old was told on Tuesday by EPD human resources officers that he had been suspended from work as they did not receive his signed declaration of allegiance before the submission deadline. The oath of loyalty to the government is now a requirement for all civil servants.

But Wu has insisted he submitted the signed document three times in recent weeks.

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Mr. Wu. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Tens of thousands of civil servants were told by the Hong Kong government to sign a declaration of allegiance by the end of February or face possible dismissal. The form, issued by the Civil Service Bureau, requires staff to pledge allegiance to the government and uphold the Basic Law. As of early March, over 200 civil servants have refused to sign the oath and may face the sack.

Mr Wu said he submitted a signed copy of the declaration using the government’s internal postal service a day before the deadline, but received a fax from the human resources department the next day — the day of the deadline — claiming that it had not received his signed declaration, he told HKFP.

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He immediately faxed a second signed copy to the office and also personally delivered a third copy to the department that day, he said. An office staffer countersigned one of the copies to confirm receipt.

Days later, Wu said he was shocked to receive a note from the department, seeking an explanation about him not signing the declaration. “So I returned my explanation in writing on March 12… saying ‘you have received three copies of the declaration with my signatures,'” he said. He says he did not receive a reply.

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Mr. Wu called the police after his office belongings were moved without his knowledge. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

One month later, on April 12, Wu said a human resources officer handed him a letter and verbally announced that he was to be suspended, but he refused to sign and confirm the letter’s receipt.

Locked out

Believing that he had not formally acknowledged the letter of suspension, Wu said he continued going into the office the following week until Tuesday, when a department undersecretary visited in Wu’s absence. The official announced to his colleagues that Wu would no longer be allowed to return. All his personal belongings were to be packed away and sent to his home on Friday.

Wu said that, for several days, he had been barred from retrieving his house keys and medication. Without his keys and unable to return home, he said he spent the next two nights sleeping on the streets of Wan Chai. He said he also attempted camping outside of the office during the day, but was made to leave by guards and the police.

Asked why he did not call a locksmith or rent a hotel room, Wu said: “Maybe I’m stubborn, but why do I have to do so?” he said. “They could have just let me in to retrieve my things or have somebody accompany me as I do it.”

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Workers moved out Mr. Wu’s office belongings while he was in meeting with department representatives. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

As Mr. Wu waited in front of his office seeking a solution on Friday afternoon – along with several reporters – EPD representatives invited him to a negotiation meeting. Workers showed up at his office and moved over 20 boxes of his office belongings in his absence. He was told during the meeting that he could choose between paying delivery costs for the items sent to his home, or the belongings could be held in storage whilst legal action was taken.

In response to media enquiries, an EPD spokesperson said in a statement that Wu’s three signed declarations had been received, “but irrelevant wording was written in the signature box each time.”

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Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

“[T]he EPD interdicted the employee concerned under the Public Service (Administration) Order as he had failed to return a duly signed declaration by the stipulated deadline without reasonable explanation,” the statement read. “The employee was given time to pack up and was given the offer to have a security guard retrieve his medication and house keys for him, which he turned down.”

“The EPD deeply regrets that someone deliberately confuses and misleads the public, making people think that the EPD has ignored the rights of the employee concerned.”

Disciplinary action or dismissal

Wu said the department had never told him his signature — which he used routinely — was problematic, though he conceded that it contained wording that was not his name. He refused to clarify further what the wording consisted of, citing a concern he may face disciplinary action or the sack. If terminated with cause, he could lose over HK$1 million in pension, he said.

“I think Hong Kong is in a miserable state now, Some people are such bullies,” he said.

He also said he felt targeted because he had always been vocal about his opinion at the office, and made several enquiries seeking clarification on the declaration of allegiance. “But, after all, what’s wrong with expressing my opinion? Whatever you think of it, you should put it down in writing… and tell me ‘you’ve committed this misconduct,'” he said.

“But all they said was to ask me the reason I did not handed in [the signed declaration,] which I did.”

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.