Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy union coalition says it will disband because of threats to members’ safety, the latest civil society organisation to shut down in the city in the wake of the national security law.

Members of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) had received messages in recent days making them feel they could face threats to their physical safety if they continue operations, chairperson Joe Wong said on Sunday when announcing the decision.

Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Wong denied claims by pro-Beijing media outlets that the HKCTU was an agent for foreign entities, a potential offence under the sweeping law.

He said the confederation had worked on some projects with the Solidarity Center, an organisation under the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

He said the projects concerned the promotion of labour rights and collective bargaining and did not involve any political activities. The HKCTU had stopped working with the centre before July last year, when the security law came into force.

Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Wong also refuted another claim by Hong Kong’s Beijing-controlled newspaper Wen Wei Po, that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to which the Hong Kong confederation belongs was a political organisation under the guise of a transnational union.

The chairperson said the ITUC was the world’s largest union confederation. The Beijing-recognised All‑China Federation of Trade Unions had hosted a visiting group from ITUC, and was invited to attend its international meetings as an observer.

Chairperson of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions Joe Wong Nai-yuen. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“Workers’ movements always stressed international solidarity. The HKCTU cooperating or connecting with unions in other regions is natural and justifiable, the government never said in the past 30 years that this is in violation of any laws,” said Wong.

“The regime, through state media, has described participation in international unions as colluding with foreign forces. This is a great interference with workers’ rights to participate in unions.”

Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Founded in 1990, the HKCTU until recently represented almost 100 affiliated organisations with around 145,000 members. But around 10 member organisations have dropped out lately.

Disbandment process

HKCTU’s executive committee at a meeting last Thursday passed a motion to begin disbanding, and a vote will be taken at a special members’ meeting on October 3.

All but four executive committee members have resigned, with Wong, vice-chairperson Leo Tang, treasurer Chung Chung-fai, and general secretary Lee Cheuk-yan still in post. Lee is currently serving jail sentences over protest-related charges.

Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Mung Siu-tat, the HKCTU’s chief executive, said last Saturday that he had already resigned and left Hong Kong.

“The situation in society has worsened drastically, and the political risks [I] face personally are imminent. Based on safety considerations, [I] had to make an emergency decision to leave Hong Kong,” said Mung on Facebook.

Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“A strong power has forced me to make a painful and resigned decision between my two roles of being the chief executive and a father.”

The HKCTU’s labour law consultation hotline and monthly donations have ceased operations and the confederation said it had stopped handling new cases for affiliated members.

Dying civil society

The HKCTU became just the latest major opposition group in Hong Kong to disband, after the city’s largest teachers’ union, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, and protest coalition Civil Human Rights Front last month announced their decision to shut down.

Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Wong thanked Lee and former chairperson Carol Ng, who is in custody awaiting trial in a national security case, for their contributions to the confederation and to the Hong Kong’s workers’ movement. “Even though they’re not here, I’m sure that their hearts are with us all.”

“I would like to apologise here to the affiliated members and Hong Kong people, that the HKCTU cannot hold out,” said Wong.

Support HKFP  |  Code of Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

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.