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Carrie Lam says the government will continue to gauge views from others in the education sector. Photo: Felix Wong

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defends decision to cut ties with city’s largest teachers’ union

  • Chief Executive Carrie Lam accuses Professional Teachers’ Union of spreading anti-government sentiment on campus
  • But Lam remains tight-lipped on whether PTU is being investigated by any law enforcement bodies

Hong Kong’s leader has defended the authorities’ decision to cut ties with the city’s largest teachers’ union, accusing it of spreading anti-government sentiment on campus and hijacking the education sector.

But Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor remained tight-lipped on whether the Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU) would be outlawed.
“I will not comment on whether it is under investigation by any law enforcement bodies. It will require solid legal grounds and sufficient evidence to outlaw a group,” she said on Monday, adding that acts breaching the Beijing-decreed national security law would not be tolerated.

What finally triggered Beijing’s wrath against Hong Kong’s biggest teachers’ union?

Lam broke her silence two days after the Education Bureau announced it would sever all links with the 95,000-member PTU, the city’s biggest union for a single profession.

The bureau will no longer regard the PTU as a professional body, and neither engage in any meetings with it nor take its opinions on matters relating to the sector, nor look into cases referred by the union.

While Lam once maintained a good working relationship with the opposition-leaning union after she was elected in 2017, and was invited to its 45th anniversary reception the following year in what was seen by some as an “ice-breaking gesture”, she said she had learned her lesson from the 2019 anti-government protests that rocked the city.

“We have to admit there is something wrong in our education when thousands of students – who lack law-abiding awareness – joined the violent and illegal protests, with teachers found to be organising and joining [such activities] and even being arrested,” Lam said.

“We are determined to right the wrong to let education just be education.”

Carrie Lam attends the PTU’s 45th anniversary reception in 2018. Photo: Handout

Lam accused the PTU of placing its political stance above the profession and even spreading “anti-government” or “anti-Beijing” sentiment to influence pupils.

“As the city’s biggest education group, it has hijacked the education sector which has made Hongkongers have a negative impression towards the profession. I think that is very unfair to our teachers,” she added.

Education Bureau severs ties with Hong Kong’s biggest teachers’ union

Addressing her change in attitude towards the union, Lam said there was room before for “rational interactions”, but not after the 2019 political crisis, which was sparked by her ill-fated extradition bill.

Lam insisted the decision to cut ties with the union was not prompted by commentaries by two Communist Party mouthpieces which branded the PTU a “malignant tumour” that had to be eradicated – although the announcement came just hours after the articles were published simultaneously on Saturday.

School students join a protest in Tsim Sha Tsui in December 2019. Photo: Dickson Lee
She said the government would continue to gauge views from other education unions, school heads’ associations, sponsoring bodies and parent-teacher associations, just as it had over the past two years when formulating coronavirus-prevention measures.

Earlier, the PTU, founded in 1974 by pro-democracy icon Szeto Wah, expressed disappointment and regret over the bureau’s decision, saying it would be a loss to the whole education sector.

“The union has a positive impact on safeguarding workers’ rights and bettering policies. Even though we have different views, if the bureau decides to cut ties with the union, it will be a loss to the whole industry,” it said.

The Post has contacted the union for comment.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Lam defends move to sever ties with teachers’ union