Hong Kong’s largest teachers’ union, which has come under fire from both Beijing and the city government for its political leanings, has announced it is quitting the pro-democracy Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.

The decision by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) on Wednesday followed the government’s move earlier this week to cut all ties with the educators’ union, accusing it of spreading anti-government political propaganda.

Student education coronavirus Covid-19 virus
Hong Kong students wearing masks. Photo: GovHK.

Just hours before the city’s Education Bureau announced its decision, Chinese state media had likened the union to a “poisonous tumour.”

“The HKPTU announces, after considering our future direction of focusing on the education profession and teachers’ rights and interests, we have decided to withdraw from the HKCTU (Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions) effective immediately,” its statement read.

The group had vowed to focus on education and the welfare of its members going forward in response to the government’s decision to no longer recognise the union. It said it would focus on helping members with litigation relating to labour and rights disputes.

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SKH St James’ Primary School on National Security Education Day. Photo: GovHK.

Also on Wednesday, the union wrote to withdraw its membership of Education International, a global network of educators’ unions, according to a letter seen by HKFP. A union spokesperson declined to comment further on the decisions.

The city’s education sector is coming under increasing pressure from authorities in the wake of the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest which authorities have largely blamed on student-aged protesters.

Carrie Lam HKPTU
The Chief Executive, Mrs Carrie Lam, attended the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) 45th Anniversary Reception this afternoon (May 19). Photo shows Mrs Lam (centre) touring an exhibition featuring the history of the HKPTU. Photo: GovHK.

In May, a survey of the HKPTU’s 95,000 members found two in five teachers were mulling leaving the city.

‘Severe political oppression’

In response, the HKCTU expressed its understanding and respect for the HKPTU, saying it had come under strong political pressure.

“Recently, the HKPTU has been subjected to extremely severe political repression and threats,” a statement on Wednesday evening read. “Under this difficult situation, it has made a decision to withdraw from the trade union. We express our understanding and respect.”

Representatives of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions meet the press on June 29, 2021. Photo: HKCTU Facebook screenshot.

Earlier this week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam accused the union, which represents over 90 per cent of the city’s teachers, of “hijacking” the profession and tarnishing the image of the city’s teachers over its support for the 2019 pro-democracy protests. She declined to comment on whether the union is under police investigation.

“Since it was established, the HKPTU has spared no efforts in upholding professionalism, protecting teachers’ rights and social justice,” the union confederation’s statement said. “For this we are grateful!”

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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.