【明報專訊】THE Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), a labour group that is steeped in history, has decided to dissolve on the heels of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union (HKPTU), marking the end of its 31-year labour campaign. Its dissolution has not been due to its fight for labour rights, but its role in political activities.
The HKCTU was founded in 1990 by Lau Chin-shek, Szeto Wah and their associates. Dedicated to independent labour campaigns, it had over 80 affiliated associations at its height and covered many professions such as transportation, construction, retail and cleaning. The HKCTU was involved in Hong Kong's many large-scale labour movements such as the protests originating from layoffs by the Hong Kong Telephone Company in the 1990s through to the fight for severance pay for cleaners working for the contractors of housing estates three years ago. The HKCTU also has a professional training centre that co-organises hundreds of courses with the Employees Retraining Board (ERB), a statutory organisation, to support the cause of labour education and retraining. The rough estimate is that these courses are attended by over 10,000 people every year. The HKCTU is first and foremost a labour group. But it cannot be denied that it is highly political. It was founded on four principles. The first is to shore up the power of trade unions and fight for labour rights. The second is to protect fundamental human rights and promote full democracy. The dissolution of the HKCTU, just like that of the HKPTU last month, involves mainly political factors.
The immediate impact of the dissolution of the HKCTU is that many training courses are about to end prematurely. Those courses co-organised with ERB will have to be rearranged. The government should take the lead in handling the matter to minimise the impact. But then again, many courses offered by the HKCTU are also offered by other organisations. As for the few courses offered exclusively by the HKCTU, they will be provided by other organisations sooner or later as long as there is demand in the market. These are issues that are relatively easy to handle. In comparison, some of the HKCTU's affiliated associations that are in weaker positions, i.e., those without resources or even a permanent address, will face a much bigger impact after losing the support of the HKCTU suddenly.
Of course, there is more than one trade union in Hong Kong, and the demise of the HKCTU does not mean that the labour sector will no longer be able to bargain with employers. However, it must be admitted that apart from being at the opposite ends of the political spectrum, there is also a major difference between the HKCTU's and the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions' (HKFTU) concepts of promoting the labour movement. Although both emphasise that wage earners have the right to walk out, the HKFTU believes that strikes should be the last resort, while the HKCTU believes that strikes are not the last resort. The HKCTU played a leading role in steel fixers' strike in 2007 and the labour campaign at Kwai Chung Container Terminal in 2013. Without the HKCTU, a critical voice will indeed go missing to a certain extent, as will a force for the obdurate fight for labour rights.
The central government demands that those who govern Hong Kong be connected to the grassroots. The SAR government has a responsibility to strengthen the protection of labour rights. This is not only about remedying Hong Kong-style capitalism's exploitation of labour, but also about social stability and the stability of one country, two systems. The authorities should listen more to the opinions of the workers, at the same time requiring the business sector to take more social responsibility. The business sector must not think that the demise of a hard-line labour organisation means it can take the opportunity to exploit workers.
明報社評 2021.10.05：職工盟解散影響工運 政府顧基層須助勞工
■/ Glossary 生字 /
prematurely：before the normal or expected time
walk out：to stop working in order to go on strike