A pro-democracy medical union in Hong Kong has denied government allegations that it has violated laws on trade unions and has used funds for political purposes.

The Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA) submitted a written response on Friday to a letter it received in early September from the Registry of Trade Unions, which demanded the union submit information on eight events it held.

Medical staff in Hong Kong protest at Hospital Authority headquarters on February 4. Photo: inmediahk.net.

David Chan, vice-chairperson of the HAEA, told HKFP that the authorities demanded information about a strike in February last year. Thousands of the city’s medical workers took part to demand the government close its border with mainland China at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other events listed in the letter including the participation by the HAEA’s former chairperson Winnie Yu in a primary election last year for the since-postponed Legislative Council election.

Yu is one of 47 democrats accused of conspiring to commit subversion under the Beijing-imposed national security law, through involvement in the primary. She was granted bail in late July after being remanded in custody for five months.

The union was also asked to explain its posts on Covid-19 vaccines and the government’s LeaveHomeSafe mobile application. The HAEA made posts on Facebook questioning the efficacy of Sinovac, and was accused by the government of “belittling” the China-developed vaccine.

“They asked us to prove how the events were in accordance with our charter,” said Chan, adding that the registry’s letter did not give detailed explanations of how the union had violated the ordinance.

David Chan Kwok-shing. File photo: Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, via Facebook.

In its reply, according to Chan, the union said that all the events it organised were in compliance with its charter and the law, and that “industrial action fighting for reasonable rights” were protected by the Basic Law and international conventions.

“Since this union is for Hospital Authority employees, citizens’ health is the issue we care the most about,” said Chan. “Therefore paying attention to issues affecting lives and humanitairian crises naturally is part of normal union activities.”

The vice-chairperson said the union did not hand over any information on members.

Unions under pressure

The HAEA is one of several unions set up in the wake of anti-government protests in 2019. Officials are planning to deregister one such union, the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, after five members were accused of sedition over children’s cartoon books featuring sheep and denied bail.

The city’s longstanding and largest pro-democracy union coalition, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, is also in the process of disbanding.

Chan said the medical union had held discussions over whether to disband but members had decided not to do so at present.

“We hope to continue our work connecting our members, and I’d like to thank the members for walking with us all along,” he said.

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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.