Hong Kong’s pro-establishment camp has hailed the disbandment of the city’s largest teachers’ union, but questions have arisen over the continuation of union work in the education sector.

Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying questioned in several Facebook posts on Tuesday whether the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) had consulted their members before making the decision to disband.

Union President Fung Wai-wah standing next to a banner which reads “Protect the profession from white terror.” Photo: Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union.

According to the union’s bylaws, two thirds of HKPTU’s members have to agree before the union can disband, Leung said.

“HKPTU has 95,000 members, had 63,000 members agreed to disbanding?” one of Leung’s posts read. “HKPTU can’t wait to pull up a white flag [surrender] before they had started, let alone completed, the disbandment procedure.”

HKPTU announced its decision to disband on Tuesday, following a fortnight of attacks from state media, and the government’s decision to cut ties with the union.

The state-run People’s Daily and news wire Xinhua had slammed the union as a “poisonous tumour” that must be “eradicated.”

A Hong Kong government spokesperson then accused it of “dragging schools into politics,” making reference to their organisation of a teacher’s strike during the city’s 2014 Umbrella Movement and the publication of teaching materials promoting civil disobedience.

President of the HKPTU Fung Wai-wah said that the organisation had felt “enormous pressure,” and made the decision after failing to find solutions to the crisis.

Existing caseload

Question have arisen over the continuation of union work in the education sector, as the HKPTU handled over 3,000 cases of enquiries and complaints per year.

President of the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers Wong Kwan-yu – another union – said on Commercial Radio on Wednesday that the federation had to assess their ability to take over HKPTU’s caseload.

Wong Kwan-yu. Photo: Wong Kwan-yu, via Facebook.

“To be honest, given our manpower and resources, we can’t completely replace or satisfy the demand [for professional training and support]. Even if we were to do so, we need a longer period of time,” said Wong.

The union offered a wide-range of services for its members, including selling groceries and goods at a discounted price. The HKPTU also offered medical checkups for education workers, as well as training programmes for teachers.

Following the union’s announcement of its decision to disband, queues formed at the HKPTU’s Mong Kok service centre. One teacher told HKFP that he came after hearing about the disbandment.

A teaching queuing outside one of the union’s service centres after the HKPTU announced its decision to disband on Tuesday. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

He said that he understood the union’s decision: “[The disbandment] was within expectations, but it’s still a shock when the decision was actually made.”

Rid of ‘evil power’

Some pro-establishment lawmakers have hailed the union’s disbandment, saying that “it was time for the education sector to let go of a burden.”

Legislative Councillor Priscilla Leung said that the union’s action over the past nine years had created a negative view for Hong Kong’s professional teachers and headmasters, Wen Wei Po reported.

Leung urged the union to “stop inciting any hate or dividing the education sector” now that it has announced its disbandment.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam attended the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) 45th Anniversary Reception in 2018. File Photo: GovHK.

Lawmaker Regina Ip said in an interview with the Hong Kong China News Agency that the HKPTU “supported illegal action, opposed the extradition bill, and refused to cut ties with violence.”

Ip said that the disbandment of the union meant that the education sector “got rid of an evil power,” but the sector still had many issues, such as the problem with teachers’ ideologies.

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Candice Chau

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.