Forming a trade union

Definition of a trade union

Trade union means any combination the principal objects of which are under its rules the regulating of relations between employees and employers, or between employees and employees, or between employers and employers.

The right to organize a trade union
  • Article 27 of the Basic Law guarantees that Hong Kong residents have freedom of association; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions.

  • The Employment Ordinance (EO) provides that every employee shall as between himself and his employer have the following rights:
    • the right to associate with other persons for the purpose of forming or applying for the registration of a trade union in accordance with the provisions of the Trade Unions Ordinance (TUO);
    • the right to be a member / an officer of a trade union registered under the TUO; and
    • where he is a member or an officer of any such trade union, the right, at any appropriate time, to take part in the activities of the trade union. Appropriate time means, in relation to an employee taking part in any activities of a trade union, time which either is outside his working hours; or is a time within his working hours at which, in accordance with arrangements agreed with or consent given by or on behalf of his employer, it is permissible for him to take part in those activities.

  • The EO also provides that any employer, or any person acting on behalf of an employer, shall not:
    • prevent or deter an employee from exercising any of the above rights;
    • dismiss, penalize or discriminate against an employee for exercising the above rights;
    • make it a condition in an offer of employment that an employee must not exercise the above rights.
Application for Union Registration

A trade union must apply to the Registrar of Trade Unions for registration under the TUO within 30 days of establishment.

  • Name
    • A trade union must have a distinctive name which is not identical with or nearly resembling the name which any other trade union, whether existing or not, is or has been registered.
  • Rules
    • A trade union must have a set of rules containing provisions for all the matters specified in the Second Schedule to the TUO. The rules should not be contradictory, imprecise, incomprehensible or inconsistent with any of the provisions of the TUO.
  • Promoters
    • Application for the registration of a trade union shall be signed by not less than 7 voting members of the trade union.
  • Member
    • A trade union member must be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong, and engaged or employed in the trade, industry or occupation with which the trade union is directly concerned.

Promoters of trade unions may approach the Registry of Trade Unions for advice on registration matters, such as proposed names and draft rules, as a reference. No fees will be charged for the registration of a trade union.

Rights of a trade union

A registered trade union has certain rights, including immunity from criminal prosecution and civil suits under certain circumstances. Officers and members of trade unions need to have an understanding of these provisions. For details, please refer to the Trade Unions Ordinance. The leaflet “Rights, Obligations and Duties of Trade Unions, Trade Union Members and Officers” by the Registry of Trade Unions also contains reference information in this regard.