The Hong Kong government has cut ties with the city’s largest teachers’ union, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU), in another blow to the city’s civil society sector.

The Education Bureau’s (EDB) announcement on Saturday came within hours of articles in the Chinese state-run People’s Daily and news wire Xinhua slamming the union as a “poisonous tumour” that must be “eradicated.”

Student school
Photo: GovHK.

“Hong Kong’s education system has long been hiding dirt, poisoning students and endangering the society. The time has come to clean it up, ” an article in Xinhua read.

It also called for a new education system to be established “in accordance with the principle of “One Country, Two Systems.”

‘Dragging schools into politics’

Within hours, the EDB announced it would cease working with the union, accusing the group of “spreading political propaganda” and being unprofessional.

“A professional education organisation should uphold professionalism, help teachers demonstrate their professionalism in guiding students to discern right from wrong,” its statement read. “However, not only does [HKPTU] fail to live up to this expectation, it has been engaging in political propaganda under the guise of being a professional education organisation,” it added.

Education Bureau
Photo: NowTV screenshot.

The spokesperson also accused the group of “dragging schools into politics,” making reference to the group’s organisation of a teacher’s strike during the city’s 2014 Umbrella Movement and the publication of teaching materials promoting civil disobedience.

Free speech and the right to strike are protected under Article 27 of the Basic Law.

The bureau also cited the group’s involvement with other pro-democracy coalitions, namely the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) and the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China – both of which have also come under pressure from authorities.

protest student human chain
Hong Kong students stage a human chain protest on September 26, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

The move means the government will no longer meet or consult with the educators’ group. Any member of the union will also stripped of their positions on government advisory bodies while its teacher’s training courses will also no longer be recognised.

The HKPTU is Hong Kong’s largest teachers’ union with around 95,000 members and representing 90 per cent of the city’s educators. It has been in operation for almost half a century.

‘Loss for entire industry’

In response to the news, the union issued a statement expressing “regret and disappointment” and accusing the government of disregarding the welfare of the city’s teachers.

“HKPTU emphasizes that trade unions play a positive role in protecting the rights and interests of employees and improving policies,” the statement on Saturday read. “Despite differences of opinion, if authorities and trade unions sever contact, it will be a loss to the entire industry.”

HKPTU president Fung Wai-wah
HKPTU president Fung Wai-wah. Photo: Wikicommons.

The blow comes as the city introduces mandatory national security education in its schools in response to months of pro-democracy protests and unrest in 2019, which authorities have largely blamed on student-aged protesters.

Union leaders have accused authorities of imposing “white terror” on the profession since the onset of the Beijing-imposed national security law last June. At least three teachers have been disqualified for life over their connections with the protests.

Last month, the head of the city’s second largest teachers’ union, the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, was handed a seat at the revamped election committee tasked with choosing the majority of the city’s legislators and chief executive in the upcoming small-circle elections.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.