Trade unions applying for registration in Hong Kong will now have to declare that they will not engage in acts that threaten national security.

According to a notice on Friday on the government website where amendments to legislation are published, the new application form is attached to a declaration in which the applicant must confirm that “all the purposes and objects of the trade union are lawful.”

2017 New Year Day rally
Unions protest on January 1, 2017. Photo: Supplied.

“This union will not will not perform or engage in any acts or activities that may endanger national security or otherwise be contrary to the interests of national security and/or are in contravention of the Trade Unions Ordinance (Cap. 332), its subsidiary legislation and other relevant laws of Hong Kong,” the declaration reads.

It is unclear if the declaration will also need to be signed by existing trade unions. HKFP has reached out to the Registry of Trade Unions for comment.

Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – in 2020 following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest triggered by a controversial extradition bill. The legislation criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts.

Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions was one of many civil society groups that disbanded in 2021. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

According to the Registry of Trade Unions, a trade union exists to regulate the relationships among employees and employers. Government-registered unions enjoy certain rights, including the power to enter into contracts with parties and take legal proceedings.

There were 1,472 registered employee unions in Hong Kong in 2021, official data shows.

Wave of union de-registrations

The new requirement for trade union applications comes days after five members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists were sentenced to 19 months each for sedition over a series of children’s books.

The judge who presided over their case said the illustrated books, which were said to depict mainland China as wolves and Hong Kong as sheep, effectively “brainwashed” young readers.

The speech therapists’ union was among the nearly 500 employee unions founded in the wake of the protests in 2019, marking a sharp rise in registered unions in the city.

But the union disbanded last year along with around 60 others, including the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and the Frontline Doctors’ Union, which had been in operation for 30 and 20 years respectively at the time of their disbanding.

Between 2017 and 2020, the number of trade unions that were de-registered were in the single digits, with the exception of 2019 when 10 were de-registered.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.