Hong Kongâ€™s biggest teachersâ€™ union has announced its disbandment, the political bombshell coming days after education authorities formally severed ties with the opposition-leaning group and warned that law enforcement could â€œtake appropriate actionâ€ against it if necessary.
The embattled Professional Teachersâ€™ Union (PTU), which has some 95,000 members, declared on Tuesday that it was left with no other option after being attacked by Beijing through state media as a â€œmalignant tumourâ€ that should be removed over its active role in the anti-government protests of 2019.
â€œIn recent years, there have been big changes to the social, political and economic environments,â€ said PTU president Fung Wai-wah, flanked by several committee members at a press conference in their Mong Kok office.
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â€œEspecially in recent weeks, the situation has become worse. As of now, we do not see a futureâ€¦ We have decided to disband. We shall start the process of disbanding.â€
The 48-year-old union decided to call it quits after education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung on Saturday urged the cityâ€™s teachers to â€œthoroughly rethinkâ€ their relationship with the PTU, while his bureau said it would no longer be recognised as a professional organisation.
That came after a pledge by Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu Chak-yee last week to â€œdefinitely investigateâ€ the union for any potential national security violations.
â€œWe have gone through, with many residents, Hong Kongâ€™s historic moments,â€ Fung said. â€œWe face huge pressure. Although we have tried to find new ways to continue our work, we regret that we have failed to find a workable option to ease the crisis this time.
â€œWe aim to disband in an orderly and reasonable manner. We shall call an extraordinary membersâ€™ meetingâ€¦ We hope to take care of the rights of some 200 staff membersâ€¦ make financial arrangements and dispose of properties and assets properly.â€
The PTU did not give an estimate of the total worth of its substantial assets, or specify whether a liquidator would be appointed to sell them off, but Fung said it would take until the end of the year to wind up with the help of financial experts and auditors.
It has reported an annual turnover of HK$300 million (US$39 million), boosted by revenue from two supermarkets it owns, along with properties in Good Hope Building and Chung Kiu Commercial Building in Mong Kok, and Wing Tak Mansion in Causeway Bay. In April, it spent HK$59 million on three commercial building units in San Po Kong.
Fung promised that all staff made redundant would be properly compensated, while the union would discuss with partners the prospect of continuing some of its services, such as the medical centres the group ran under its welfare programme.
â€œSome services, like supermarkets, will continue until the stocks are sold. The sale of our properties may take some time,â€ he said when asked about a timetable.
â€œMembersâ€™ records will be destroyed in due course. Their personal data will not be disclosedâ€¦ It is a difficult decision. I hope our members can understand our difficulties.â€
An Education Bureau spokeswoman declined to comment on the PTUâ€™s shock announcement, saying only that it would have â€œno impactâ€ on the bureauâ€™s work.
The government would continue to work with â€œdeserving professional education groupsâ€ and communicate with school heads and teachers to facilitate the sectorâ€™s development and nurture studentsâ€™ growth, she added.
The PTU took several conciliatory steps under pressure last week, including launching a working group to raise awareness of Chinese history and culture among teachers and pupils.
The union also withdrew from Brussels-based group Education International last Wednesday after pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao slammed the PTU for joining the federationâ€™s call for the Hong Kong government to respond to protestersâ€™ demands during the 2019 social unrest.
Fung on Tuesday said breaking up the union was the â€œbest option availableâ€ under continuing pressure. He said members had discussed other options but did not specify what they were.
The union would not comment on or be involved in social events any more, he said, and it would be up to individual members to decide whether to take part in politics in the future.
Officials and pro-establishment figures have strongly criticised the PTU over the past decade for its open involvement in political activism.
During the 2014 Occupy movement for universal suffrage, the PTU called for a strike after riot police fired tear gas to disperse student demonstrators for the first time on September 28 that year.
In June 2019, the group urged teachers and pupils to skip classes following clashes between police and protesters, who had taken to the streets over the since-withdrawn extradition bill that sparked a wider anti-government movement.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has remained tight-lipped on whether the PTU could be outlawed, after accusing the group of â€œhijacking the education sectorâ€, and sowing â€œanti-governmentâ€ and â€œanti-Beijingâ€ sentiment among pupils.
As news of the PTUâ€™s decision spread on Tuesday afternoon, dozens of members gathered outside its Mong Kok centre, while its supermarket was busier than usual with shoppers showing their support.
The PTU is the latest group to be targeted by both the Beijing and local governments in a continuing overhaul of key sectors ranging from politics to education, citing the need for reform to prevent any repeat of the chaos of 2019.
The Education Bureau on July 31 declared it would no longer recognise the union and stripped it of its status as a professional group, just hours after the official Xinhua news agency and Communist Party mouthpiece Peopleâ€™s Daily ran simultaneous articles branding it a â€œmalignant tumourâ€ that must be eradicated.
The bureau said the PTUâ€™s remarks and actions in recent years rendered it â€œno different from a political body in essenceâ€, citing its past participation in the Civil Human Rights Front organiser of the cityâ€™s annual July 1 march and some of 2019â€²s biggest protests and an alliance behind the cityâ€™s yearly Tiananmen Square vigil.
Amnesty International on Tuesday called the PTUâ€™s demise â€œa disturbing development for other unions still operating in the cityâ€.
â€œThis assault on the PTU also highlights the rapidly shrinking space for freedom of expression in Hong Kongâ€™s schools and universities,â€ said Joshua Rosenzweig, head of the INGOâ€™s China team.
An assistant principal at a subsidised secondary school and a PTU member for about 10 years, surnamed Chan, said while he was â€œdisappointedâ€ about the unionâ€™s dissolution there was little scope for it to continue representing the sectorâ€™s workforce.
â€œIs it now the case that if a group is not liked by the authorities then they must be eliminated?â€ he added.
Category: Hong Kong