Hong Kong’s largest independent union has been dissolved, raising concerns over space for civil society groups as a national security law stifles dissent in the global financial hub.
Members of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) voted in favor of the dissolution because “political uncertainty” made the prosecution difficult, its vice president Leo Tang said, declining to elaborate further.
“At the meeting, all of our affiliates made the difficult decision. It is a heartbreaking decision,” he added.
As anti-government protests in 2019 sparked a wave of union activism in Hong Kong and triggered a 35% increase in registered unions, groups have scrambled to disband since China imposed the year’s security law last.
Fears of breaking the law and facing sentences of up to life in prison have led to the dissolution of at least 29 unions since the start of this year, according to a Reuters tally.
Tang of HKCTU said members of the group had received threats to their personal safety, without going into details.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has denied that the government is cracking down on civil society and authorities say all law enforcement actions are evidence-based and have nothing to do with people’s political beliefs arrested.
Some activists say the union landscape in Hong Kong is starting to look more and more like mainland China.
“Unions will come under closer scrutiny if they aren’t already. In this way, it is very similar to mainland China where union activism is seen as a threat by the authorities, where there is no organized independent union activism, ”Maya Wang, senior researcher in China for Human Rights Watch, said.
Pro-Beijing media suggested the union was a “foreign agent” or “collusion with foreign forces” – punishable by life imprisonment under the Security Act – because of its affiliation with the International Trade Union Confederation, a charge by both HKCTU and the global group denies.
“To suggest that there is some collusion with the HKCTU or other union leaders, with the international community, is simply to misunderstand the global solidarity that is in our DNA,” said Sharan Burrows, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.
HKCTU says it has helped dozens of construction, dockwork and cleaning workers recover wages withheld by employers over the years and has also negotiated on their behalf to increase wages in line with inflation.
The group has 15 training centers in Hong Kong, providing more than 200 vocational training courses.
The centers will now close, affecting more than 1,000 students, the union said.
The coordination group of 75 unions helped push reforms forward, increase maternity leave from ten to 14 weeks, increase sick leave pay and legislate on the city’s first payroll, according to reports. activists.