My Understanding on the Rights, Duties and Functions of the Senate

A former Senate member

The election of the Senate will soon take place, and every qualified members shall have the right and duty to vote for the election of its 19 members. Therefore, as a former Senate member, I think it is a right moment to elaborate on the rights, duties and functions of the Senate.

From the perspective of organization, the Annual General Meeting of Members’ Representatives (AGM) is the supreme authority of the union and, subject to this authority the union is governed by the Executive Committee, and safeguarded by the Senate. The AGM is attended by members’ representatives elected from qualified members of the various units of the union, and it shall be held every year. The main business of the AGM is to review the past work of the union and to make plans and policies for the future development.

The conduct of the PTU’s business is vested in the cabinet-like Executive Committee. In the event of only one Proposed Executive Committee being nominated in the election, each qualified member shall case a vote of confidence by secret ballot on one-person-one-vote basis. This means that the elected Executive Committee must obtain votes of confidence of the majority of our members, who support and agree on the visions and missions of the Proposed Executive Committee. Therefore, it is a process of delegating the legitimate power to the Executive Committee for the management of the union business. Moreover, the AGM shall also pass the reports, plans and policies for the future development of the union submitted by the Executive Committee, and the Executive Committee shall be responsible for carrying out the tasks and decisions of the AGM.

The Executive Committee shall hold a weekly regular meeting and a monthly executive committee meeting respectively for the conduct of union daily business and various matters arising from the current social and political development. Work pressure could be expectedly huge when most of our office bearing members who work for the union voluntarily are full-time teachers. To enhance the power legitimacy of and the accountability of the Executive Committee, the Constitution of the HKPTU was therefore amended in the AGM of 1992, in which the Senate was introduced to safeguard the union. The relevant provisions concerning the composition, role and functions of the Senate can be found in rule 8(A) of the Constitution. *

In accordance with (1) in rule 8(A), “……he Senate shall be responsible for making the Executive Committee accountable for its arrangement and conduct of union affairs.” This implies that the Senate supervises and inspects the conduct of the Executive Committee. In the Constitution no provision makes a substantial requirement on how the Senate supervises or inspects the conduct of the Executive Committee, and the Senate shall only safeguard the main directions and principles of the union. Some more substantial requirements in the provisions include “the right to attend Executive Committee Meetings as observers” found in (6) of rule 8(A) and “to demand that the Executive Committee should review its decisions” found in (11) of rule 8(A). However, the execution of this right is not without limit or restriction, which is also stated in the provision (6) and (11) of rule 8(A), where “……not have the right to vote at Executive Committee Meetings” and “……not impose any restrictions on the Executive Committee in the management of union affairs so long as the latter abides by the rules of the union” have respectively demonstrated the balance of power between the Executive Committee and the Senate.

The Senate members attending the Executive Committee Meetings aims at supervising or inspecting whether the office bearers discuss an agenda item or make a decision in accordance with the proper proceedings, and whether a decision thus made coincides with the resolution passed in the AGM or the main objectives of the union. The Senate members also need to ensure that the resolutions made by the Executive Committee have addressed the interest of the majority of our members. Therefore, the Senate members are responsible for advising the Executive Committee on what they have observed, supervised and inspected, and also on whether the resolutions have violated the Constitution or the rule of procedure. So we are neither interfering the Executive Committee, nor participating in the resolution-making process, and we are not absolutely forming another supreme authority in the union. When some of the Senate members, or the whole Senate do not agree on a decision made by the Executive Committee, due to different personal beliefs or values, which however reflects the mainstream thinking of the members and the direction of the representatives of the AGM, the Senate shall have no right to override the resolution. Frankly speaking, in the current Constitution there is no substantial stipulations on the supervisory functions of the Senate. I think that there is still room for improvement and it needs to be thoroughly discussed and reviewed in the future when necessary.

Moreover, with reference to my past experience and observations, something should not be done by the Senate members, like that it is not an appropriate procedure of a Senate member to privately obtain the information of the union affairs from the staff without the Senate’s endorsement. A Senate member should not attend a meeting, where the confidential information of a particular staff member is on the discussion item. And it is not a proper channel of a Senate member to use Facebook as a platform to discuss or criticize the affairs of the Executive Committee. Finally, I would stress that under the Constitutional framework of the union, the Senate has its do’s and don’ts, and the candidates standing for the Senate election should know its essence. Our members should also have more knowledge on the rights, duties and functions of the Senate, and only this could enhance the healthy and stable development of the union.

*(In accordance with the rule 8(A) about the rights, duties and functions of the Senate, including: (1) When the Annual General Meeting of Members’ Representatives is not in session, the Senate shall be responsible for making the Executive Committee accountable for its arrangement and conduct of union affairs. (6) Members of the Senate shall have the right to attend the Executive Committee Meetings as observers and, with the consent of the Executive Committee, to address the meeting. However, members of the Senate shall not have the right to vote at Executive Committee Meetings. (11) The Senate may, when it considers necessary, demand that the Executive Committee should review its decisions. Such demands made by the Senate shall not, however, impose any restrictions on the Executive Committee in the management of union affairs so long as the latter abides by the rules of the union.)