A pro-Beijing labour union has scrapped plans for a workers’ rights march to mark Labour Day, saying that the police were yet to issue approval for the demonstration.

Lam Chun-sing
Chairperson of the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions Lam Chun-sing. File photo: Lam Chun-sing, via Facebook.

With more than ten days to go until the event, the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions (HKFLU) on Monday called off the march, local media reported. The group had earlier applied to hold a procession in Prince Edward of around 100 to 200 people next Saturday.

Lam Chun-sing, a lawmaker and the chairperson of HKFLU, reportedly said it had not yet received the police’s letter of no objection, which is required for public processions of more than 30 people. If not, it could be considered an unauthorised assembly.

HKFP has reached out to Lam for comment.

The announcement came two days after China’s top official for Hong Kong affairs Xia Baolong, who is currently visiting the city, said protests were “not the only way” for the public to airtheir views.

“There are many channels and ways to express interests and demands,” Xia said, adding that livelihood issues could easily be “hijacked” by those with “ulterior motives.”

Xia Baolong
Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Xia Baolong attends the opening ceremony of the National Security Education Day on April 15, 2023. Photo: HKMAO.

Lam told HK01 on Monday that only around a dozen people had expressed interest in the march, with many worried about being recognised by their employers. Some also expressed fears that the event would be “hijacked,” echoing Xia’s wording.

Tam Yiu-chung, a pro-Beijing heavyweight and formerly Hong Kong’s sole delegate to China’s top legislative body, said Xia did not mean that people could not participate in demonstrations.

Instead of a march, the union group may plan other Labour Day activities such as a petition, press conference or a carnival, Lam added.

‘Is it possible to ensure safety?’

Traditionally, political parties and labour rights groups from across the political spectrum have held Labour Day events to advocate for workers’ rights. Such scenes, however, have not been seen since Covid-19.

This year’s Labour Day is the first since 2019 with no pandemic-related social distancing rules in place.

Labour day protest march rally
A Labour Day protest on May 1, 2019. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Besides the HKFLU, two former members of the defunct Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) have applied for police approval to organise a public demonstration on Labour Day. The HKCTU was among the dozens of civil society organisations that folded in the wake of the national security law.

Meanwhile, another pro-Beijing party, the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU), said it was unlikely to hold a rally this year.

“[In the past] we had around 3,000 to 4,000 people taking part in our Labour Day marches. With such a large scale, is it possible to ensure safety?” Kingsley Wong, the chairperson of the HKFTU, told Now News.

Labour day protest march rally
A Labour Day protest on May 1, 2019. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

“Lately [we] have been closely monitoring the Songkran celebrations that just took place. Some people used that opportunity to stir up troubles,” Wong said, referring to an incident that saw the arrests of two people accused of firing water guns at police officers during the Thai festivities.

While some small-scale public gatherings have recently been granted police approval, they have been subject to stringent measures. At Hong Kong’s first authorised protest against a government policy in about two years, demonstrators were made to wear numbered tags and carry their own cordon lines.

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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.