Social workers to form alliance

Sherry Lee

A union of government social workers will join Hong Kong's most radical groups in an alliance to expose government inadequacies in handling domestic violence, and the unprecedented move is likely to anger the Social Welfare Department.

The Social Work Officer Grade Branch of Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association, established last June, met social groups and women's rights groups and visited women's shelters last month to discuss formation of the alliance and strategies.

Union chairman Sam Leung Kin-hung, the driving force behind the alliance, said the department would be 'shocked' by the move.

'They thought that we would just organise our own union. They couldn't believe that we would make it so big,' said Mr Leung, an assistant social work officer. 'We don't care about our careers. We know this is a one-way road, and we can't go back.'

He has joined forces with welfare sector legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung to organise the alliance, which he said he hoped would be launched next month.

The legislator said he was worried that the department might punish its social workers who joined the alliance.

But Mr Leung said forming the alliance was not meant to cause trouble - he and Mr Cheung just want to create an effective system to solve the protracted issue.A spokeswoman for the Social Welfare Department said union members had to comply with the rules and regulations governing the conduct of a civil servant.

Mr Leung will approach unions and groups representing civil servants who deal with domestic violence victims, including police officers, public doctors, Social Welfare Department psychologists and schoolteachers so that each party can report problematic policies in handling domestic abuse.

Non-governmental groups likely to join the alliance include the Society for Community Organisation, the Association for Survivors of Women Abuse (Kwan Fook), the Hong Kong Women's Coalition on Equal Opportunities, the Concerning CSSA Review Alliance and RainLily, which helps sexual assault victims - all of which have been critical of the department. Domestic violence cases reported to police rose to 4,704 last year - nearly an 80 per cent rise from 2005.

'The government social workers can provide strong evidence of the government's inadequacies in handling domestic violence. They can paint a clear picture of how things go wrong in the Social Welfare Department and others,' Mr Cheung said.

Mr Leung criticised the lack of social workers in the department who handle domestic violence, saying there are only 120 social workers at the Family and Child Protection Services Unit to handle all Hong Kong domestic violence cases, with each taking care of 50 families. He pointed out social workers overseas care for 10 to 20 cases each.

But a department spokeswoman said the number of social workers at the unit increased from 110 workers in 2004-05 to 155 in 2006-07, with eight teams.

Violence in the home

Rise in domestic abuse cases reported to police since 2005: 80%