Hong Kong Overview
State condition: A special administrative region in southern China, is part of the People’s Republic of China, but special laws apply to Hong Kong.
Surface: 1104 km2
Language: Cantonese is the official language.
Labor market and economy:
Hong Kong’s GDP per capita is among the highest in Asia. In Hong Kong, there are unusually many millionaires and billionaires, but also many low-income earners and low-paid migrant workers. Public social protection is deficient. For example, there is no general pension system or unemployment fund and those who want a good education or health care must pay for it themselves. The rulers of Hong Kong have been pursuing a market-liberal policy for decades. They have chosen to interfere as little as possible, they allow the market to act freely and they have never initiated any general welfare reforms. However, there are two exceptions to neoliberal policies: more than half of the population lives in subsidized housing and public transport, including taxis, receives extensive public support.
At the same time, Hong Kong has benefited from the rapid economic development in China. Unemployment in Hong Kong is low, currently just under 3 percent. In recent years, it has been difficult for employers in, among other things, the service industries to find staff. Despite the good economy, however, the lowest wages are still low. The state minimum wage is currently 35.5 HK dollars, ie just under SEK 40 per hour. A low level given Hong Kong’s high GDP. The chairman of the central trade union organization HKCTU, Carol Ng Man-yee, believes that a strengthened trade union bargaining power is the only way to drive up wages.
The free trade unions are under pressure and have little room for maneuver. As long as the trade union movement adheres to narrow trade union issues, they are reasonably accepted by the political government, but as soon as the trade union movement is perceived as an independent opposition, the activities risk being stifled by the regime in Beijing. It is particularly sensitive when the trade union movement in Hong Kong criticizes the lack of trade union rights in the rest of China (“Mainland China”).
According to microedu, Hong Kong has been part of China since 1997, which has meant that the thumbscrews have been tightened. Although China allows a higher degree of freedom of association and a freer debate in Hong Kong than in the rest of the country, openness is also limited in Hong Kong and this affects trade unions. In 2014, the so-called umbrella revolution was carried out in Hong Kong. Protesters protested that China was limiting political room for maneuver in Hong Kong. The unions did not officially participate in the protests, but were affected by the events.
In 2019, the conflicts in Hong Kong intensified again. The popular mobilization started with Hong Kong’s Finance Minister Carrie Lam presenting a bill that would allow people suspected of crimes to be sent to mainland China courts. In the end, Lam was forced to withdraw the bill, but then the demands were expanded to also be about democratization and an end to police violence. Nor during this wave of protests have the trade unions been involved in organizing the demonstrations. In reality, however, the independent trade union movement has played a significant role.
The dominant trade union movement in Hong Kong is the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU). HKCTU was founded in 1990 and is a central trade union organization with unions that, among other things, organize teachers, construction workers, food workers, textile workers, social workers, domestic workers and employees in the electronics and telephone industries.
HKCTU has an unusual history. The central organization has emerged from the Christian Trade Union (CIC), the Christian Industrial Committee. For a long time, only the CIC existed as an alternative to the Beijing- and Taiwan-controlled unions. Through initiatives by public employees, the independent trade union movement was expanded and HKCTU was formed. HKCTU currently has 170,000 members divided into 61 unions. the members are found in a number of industries such as service, industry and the public sector. One of the unions organizes domestic workers, ie mainly female migrant workers from the Philippines and Indonesia.
There is a close connection between HKCTU and the democracy movement both in Hong Kong and in China. At the same time, HKCTU emphasizes that the organization is non-partisan. Since its inception, there has also been close cooperation between HKCTU and the Swedish trade union movement, including in the form of several aid projects.
In addition to HKCTU, there are two other central trade unions in Hong Kong, one China-loyal and one with close ties to Taiwan. The latter is called the Hong Kong and Kowloon Trade Union Coincil (HKTUC).
Central trade unions. Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) and Hong Kong and Kowloon Trade Union Coincil (HKTUC). Both HKCTU and HKTUC are members of the World Trade Union ITUC.