Hong Kong: Chinese government urged to review anti-trade union laws

photo: Alexander Mak, NurPhoto via AFP

The ITUC has backed the conclusions of the third report on China from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which has revealed the scale of the government’s non-compliance with its obligations under international law.

The ITUC calls on the Government of the People’s Republic of China to honour its international commitments as a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The CESCR monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by states. It urged the governments of Hong Kong and China to review the PRC National Security Law in Hong Kong (NSL), the Trade Union Ordinance and Public Order Ordinance to ensure their compliance with the Covenant.

It raised concerns about the arrests, detentions and trials of trade unionists, civil society actors, journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers after the 2019 – 2020 anti-extradition bill movement in Hong Kong, and the use of the NSL to restrict the right to freedom of association.

ITUC Deputy General Secretary Owen Tudor commented: “Sadly, none of this is news for those of us involved in defending workers’ rights. We have observed the ruthless repression of working people and their wish to organise for a long time in China, and most recently in Hong Kong.

“But we welcome the scale of this report in shining a light on how far China is from respecting the international norms that it has signed up to. We support its demands, particularly around freedom of association that is the most basic of right of working people.”

The report also includes concerns:

  • About the systematic discriminations, use of forced labour and the policies of Sinicisation targeting the predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and other ethnic minorities in China.
  • That the All-China Federation of Trade Unions is the only permitted structure for trade unions, preventing workers from freely exercise their right to form and join trade unions and to strike.
  • About the unsustainable debts and conditionalities imposed on borrowing countries under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, like any debt conditionalities imposed by other private and state lenders..

The report urges the Chinese government to:

  • Immediately end the violations of human rights and large-scale, arbitrary deprivation of liberties in Xinjiang, and implement the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the OHCHR assessment of human rights concerns, the ILO Conventions on Forced Labour (No. 29) and Abolition of Forced Labour (No. 105) and provide free access to the UN’s Independent Human Rights Experts.
  • Amend the Trade Union Law to allow workers to form independent trade unions, both within and outside the structure of the ACFTU and ratify the fundamental ILO Conventions No.87 and No.98 on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

The CESCR’s observations reinforce the conclusions and recommendations of the ILO supervisory bodies on China: the Committee of Application of Standards (2022), the experts’ committee (2023) and the Committee on Freedom of Association.

The ITUC submitted observations for this third periodic review of the CESCR on China.