About 200 social workers rallied in Central on Tuesday to urge Hongkongers to join a three-day strike over what they called a humanitarian crisis facing the city.
The activists gathered in Edinburgh Place in support of anti-government protesters and to condemn police’s handling of the demonstrations during six months of unrest.
A strike committee from the social welfare sector, which is made up of union members and concern groups, had organised for the industrial action to run from Tuesday to Thursday.
Patrick Lam, an occupational therapist and one of the strike’s organisers, encouraged people across different sectors to set up trade unions and hold demonstrations to hammer home protesters’ five demands, which include a judge-led inquiry into police conduct.
“The social welfare sector works for the people and we treasure the value of human beings,” Lam said.
“We really want to show the government and the world that we are very concerned about the escalating police violence and the tightening of basic personal freedoms.”
Away from the action in Central, regular lunchtime protests took place in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon Bay, Kwai Chung, Sha Tin and Tai Koo, with dozens gathering in each location.
Khalio Fung, a social worker for young people who decided to join the strike in solidarity with the city’s youth, especially those injured or arrested in the protests, said a successful strike would show that the movement had not lost momentum.
However, he said it might not be enough to force the government to deliver concrete responses to protesters’ demands.
Tsang Koon-wing, who works with poor families and new immigrants with the Caritas Social Work Services Division, said social workers must “reach out to our communities and people from all walks of life to have a political dialogue”.
“We all have different political stances but we can all represent the demands from different socio-economic backgrounds to the government,” he added.
Before the rally, the Social Welfare Department contacted some community centres and NGOs asking how many social workers were expected to join the strike and whether day-to-day services would be affected.
Tsang, a social worker of 28 years, said that while he understood the department had to ensure basic services remained in place, he was concerned that monitoring from the government could pose a political risk for social workers.
At 1.15pm, another social worker, Tonica Wong, led those gathered at Edinburgh Place for a period of silence to unite with protesters and young people involved in violent clashes this year.
Police have repeatedly defended their response to the protests, saying they have used “minimum force” to clear protesters who have engaged in violence, vandalism and unlawful assembly.