Activists from Hong Kong’s health care sector threatened to ramp up the pressure on the beleaguered government with a wave of strikes from an expanded trade union movement during a rally on Wednesday.
Unionists and campaigners took to the stage in Edinburgh Place, Central, to encourage Hongkongers to set up new unions to turn the screws on a government already squeezed by the protests sparked six months ago by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
The organisers said 1,800 people attended the rally at its peak, but police put the figure at 550.
A spokesman for the rally’s organiser and a public hospital nurse, Law Cheuk-yiu, said: “If we unite, we will get stronger. When we have strength, our actions will have impacts and our voices will be heard. And we can resist the political suppression [by the government] more forcibly.
“We hope to be able to set up unions for different disciplines in the sector, so we can plan our future actions, including possible strikes.”
He said those who joined the rally mainly included employees of public hospitals, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and those working in the field of medicine and medical devices.
They criticised police for using “excessive force” in handling protests over the past few months, citing examples of firing tear gas near hospitals.
“It will affect the patients. But the Hospital Authority did not make any noise about that, while it asked medical staff not to hold any rallies at hospitals to ensure patient services were not affected,” said Law.
Carol Ng Man-yee, a veteran unionist and the chairman of the pro-democracy Confederation of Trade Unions, said the previous calls for general strikes were “not too successful” because there were not enough unions to mobilise workers from various trades.
“The more unions we set up, more trades will be covered and represented. Then our resistance can be more sustainable,” she said.
One of the new unions formed on Wednesday was from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries sector. One of the organisers, Tsang, 27, said the months-long unrest had prompted him to register with a union.
“There had been calls for general strikes since June. But many feared of retributions and consequences. Therefore we hope those from our sector will find a channel to voice our opinion and fight for our rights and benefits by forming a union,” he said.
A nurse at a public hospital for more than 20 years who gave her name as Pang said the current union for nurses had played a relatively passive or “an almost absent” role in the past six months of protests to fight for the rights of patients and staff, prompting her to actively consider joining the newly formed unions to bring in alternative voices.
In Admiralty, about 100 separatists led a rally outside the British Consulate to call on London to “annul” the treaty it signed with Beijing in 1984, resulting in Hong Kong’s handover to China, and help the city build an independent democracy.
The activists, from the Hong Kong Independence Party, claimed London no longer had any obligation to honour the Sino-British Joint Declaration because Beijing had “breached it in the first place by failing to adhere to the ‘one country, two systems’ principle”.
They cited the example of a Causeway Bay bookseller who was taken to mainland China without going through any process under Hong Kong law.
Ma, 24, a marketing sector employee who was among the participants, admitted the chances for the activists to succeed in their appeal were slim.
“But that doesn’t mean it is impossible,” she said, adding that she hoped “genuine autonomy” and universal suffrage could be achieved in the long run.
The 1984 treaty paved the way for Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997 in an arrangement under the “one country, two systems” principle. But the anti-government protests of recent months have sparked concern that the firewall between the two systems is being eroded.
London is of the view that the agreement remains in effect and is legally binding, which must be honoured. But Chinese officials have referred to it as an “historic document” that had “completed its mission”.
The activists said a representative of the consulate received their petition before the rally started at 8pm.
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