Hong Kong’s pro-establishment lawmakers have urged the government to cancel the registration of social workers convicted of public order offences, and reform the organisation responsible for regulating them.

DAB legislator Leung Che-cheung said on Wednesday that the government should consider disqualifying social workers who were convicted of unlawful assembly or assaulting the police, and review the function and composition of the Social Workers Registration Board, which is the statutory body responsible for monitoring social workers.

Leung Che-cheung DAB
Legislative Councillor Leung Che-cheung (left) outside the government headquarters urging the government to de-register social workers with criminal convictions on May 26, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said in a Legislative Council (LegCo) meeting that it “would not be appropriate” for the government to intervene in the operations of the board, but officials would give recommendations on “appropriate measures” for the board to consider.

According to documents submitted by the board, between 2018 and 2021, seven social workers were convicted of criminal charges, including unlawful assembly, assaulting police officers, and incitement to commit public nuisance.

Law said that none of the seven convicted social workers had had their registrations cancelled, and that under the Social Workers Registration Ordinance, only those who committed serious offences listed in the ordinance, such as rape, murder, or kidnapping, would be disqualified.

Law Chi-kwong
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong at a Legislative Council meeting on May 26, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Leung then hit out at the government for being “indifferent” about the issue, and claimed that the government was harbouring the board.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Luk Chung-hung said in the LegCo meeting that a minority of social workers took part in “radical and illegal assemblies,” and he was worried that some “politically minded” social workers and those who with the mind to violate the law might use their work connections to impact service users, such as young people.

‘Not as simple’

Registered social worker and former legislator Shiu Ka-chun told HKFP that the ordinance had given the board “absolute power” to take responsibility for the registration and monitoring of the discipline of social workers.

Shiu was convicted of public nuisance and sentenced to eight months behind bars in April 2019 after taking part in the city’s 2014 Umbrella Movement.

Shiu Ka-chun
Shiu Ka-chun. File Photo: Shiu Ka-chun, via Facebook.

“During the protests, a lot of [social workers] had taken part and were arrested because of it. In the eyes of the law, they might have violated the law, but from the view of professional ethics, there might be a different understanding that they violated the law to defend social justice,” said Shiu.

“The issue is not as simple as just disqualifying [social workers] as soon as they violated the law.”

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.