On the morning of January 6, 2021, as part of a wave of arrests, Carol Ng, president of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), Winnie Yu Wai-ming, president of the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance Trade Union, and other HKCTU activists were arrested.
An interview with Carol Ng, president of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU)
You were arrested on 6 January. Can you tell us about it?
Carol Ng: “This happened at around 6 a.m. At that time, everyone is still sleeping in Hong Kong. That was the case at home. All of a sudden there was a long uninterrupted ringing at the door. I had to answer it to make it stop. It was the police telling me that they were coming to arrest me for violating the National Security Act.
“The police blamed me for participating in last summer’s primaries, which were held to select the best possible candidates for the legislative elections. They asked me to come with them to the police station.
“Early in the morning, no one is ready for such a thing, especially in front of my daughter, my family. There are only women in my home. And we found ourselves in front of six policemen in the early morning. Fortunately, I was able to contact a lawyer. My 36 hours in police custody were exhausting. Since then, I have been released on bail. But since then, I have been under constant police surveillance.
“Before leaving for the station, the police searched my entire apartment. They turned everything inside out and scattered all the papers and took away documents, as well as my computer, cell phones and two tablets. The search lasted two hours. The neighbours were also very worried (in Hong Kong, families all live in large buildings and neighbours hear everything that happens on the landing). For the first time in my life, I was handcuffed. When the police tried to force me to wear a hood, I refused. I told them, ‘I am not a murderer!’”
What are you accused of?
C.N.: “These accusations about the organization of the primaries are a manipulation. In reality, I am being targeted as president of the HKCTU. I ran in the primaries on behalf of the HKCTU and the Labour Party. The fight to change things starts with politics. And politics begins by running for election. To accuse me of running in the primaries on behalf of the HKCTU goes beyond the pale. Elections are guaranteed by Hong Kong’s fundamental laws. Through me, it is the HKCTU that is targeted as a trade union. So the regime takes a dim view of us. It is also an attack on workers’ rights, the right to organize and the right to collective bargaining.”
What other labour activists have been arrested or prosecuted?
C.N.: « 53 activists were arrested, including me. All of them were candidates for the primaries or were the main organizers. According to our information, they are all in a situation similar to mine. I know of two cases where the arrests were very violent, where the police broke down the door and were very physical. For my part, this is the first time that I have been charged, but for many others who have already been arrested, they face heavier sentences because of repeated offenses. The regime is trying to stack the charges.
“They have separated women and men in different police stations. During interrogations, we were repeatedly asked to answer the same questions. Our lawyers were also under pressure, having to run from one police station to another to verify that their clients were not being abused.”
We have followed with interest the movement of constitution of new trade unions lately in Hong Kong. What is your assessment?
C.N.: « A large number of new unions have been formed lately. Some of them joined the HKCTU. They are representative of different sectors that were very difficult to organize up until now. This is the case of medical staff in public hospitals who were not previously organized. Today they have formed a trade union which has 20,000 new members. The financial services sector is another example: they are often young bankers or bank employees who used to make a good living. But since the mobilization of 2019, it is a sector that has been very much affected. Today, they want to make a difference and have formed a union. In the same way, among teachers, only university teachers had a tradition of political discussion, today teachers at all levels are organizing, from nursery school to high school.
“There is also a movement towards unions in the most precarious sectors such as cleaning workers or property management companies staff.
“These new activists are often young and determined to make a difference. They want to change government policy and change the regime. The government needs to listen.
“Covid has affected many jobs. Many employees were put on short-time working or unpaid leave. There have been a lot of layoffs. Everyone expected the government to take action for the workers. But the government’s employment support plan allows employers to ask the government for money, with no guarantee that it will then be distributed to workers.
“The government gave HK$17 billion to Cathay Pacific. This did not prevent the company from laying off 5,000 employees and liquidating its subsidiary Cathay Dragon. A few months ago, management announced to the aircrew and pilots’ unions that they were abolishing all collective bargaining. This is unacceptable. The company is using the pandemic, just as the government is manipulating the situation, to call into question the right to collective bargaining and organization. This is a major attack on the union.”
What kind of international solidarity campaign is needed?
C.N.: « It is very important that the international trade union organizations mobilize, that the calls from national unions multiply. We call on the solidarity of the unions to address Cathay as soon as one of their planes touches down in a country. The Hong Kong government must change its policy and respect basic democratic rights, including the right to participate in elections. It must guarantee workers’ rights, including the right to collective bargaining and the right to organize. The worker’s political rights should not be intimidated”.
Interview conducted on 11 January, by G. Favre.