United against the Pandemic, Persevere in Serving Our Members

PTU News Reporter

Experts expect the usage of masks, frequent hand washing, and social distancing to be necessary for a while as the pandemic continues to be a threat.

Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU) Andrew Shum Wai-Nam said the PTU has been sourcing supplies while following up with the suspension of class, the arrangement of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) Examination, and white terror faced by teachers. In face of all the challenges, Shum emphasises it is all part of the PTU’s responsibility as a labour union of teachers and that the PTU will persevere in its endeavour to strive for the education sector’s rights as well as to serve its members.

PTU Chief Executive Andrew Shum Wai-Nam has been paying close attention since he first heard about the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. Masks were well stocked as it has long been the PTU’s practice in preparation for the annual winter flu. Shum noticed the increasing demand for masks in Hong Kong and arranged for the PTU’s Welfare Department to increase the order of masks. That explains why the PTU managed to sell affordable masks to its members early on in the pandemic.

Sale of Masks Is Not Fanfare, but Earnest Service

“It is the labour union’s responsibility under such extraordinary circumstances,” said Shum. To him, the sale of masks is not for profit, but for members’ welfare. He attributed the shortage of masks in February to the government’s inability in combatting the spread of COVID-19. Citizens resorted to sourcing masks on their own. Anxious citizens queuing up for masks in Mong Kok was a common and disheartening sight for Shum.

The outbreak has quickly developed into a pandemic, making sourcing masks increasingly difficult. The PTU has been hard at work in sourcing masks, but is careful not to give any false hope to their members and refuses to make use of the pandemic to polish their image. That is why they have been laying low. “Some people like taking photos with heaps of masks. They might be doing it for the record or to simply report their work if they do it once. But if this is done repeatedly and as promotion, it becomes very strange. In face of the pandemic, this is not what our members and the general public want.”

Shum said the PTU managed to find a large amount of masks in South Korea in late February, but the South Korean government announced exportation restrictions shortly afterwards. “We had no choice but to start all over again.” Many suppliers took advantage of the situation and increased their price drastically. Shum insisted on spending the PTU’s funds wisely on reputed suppliers who could ensure quality. “We get our funds from our members. We cannot wire a couple millions overseas without knowing the sources of the supplies and at such high prices.”

He recalled the video clips he received from a Ukrainian supplier when the mask shortage was at its worst. The videos show workers burning masks and containing water with the masks to exhibit the quality of the masks. He said he did consider taking the risk, but thought better of it and decided to prioritise quality and reputation of the suppliers.

55,000 Members Participated in Lots for Masks

The PTU Welfare Department’s supermarkets have been operating smoothly for decades. It is rare that Chief Executive directly handled issues in the Welfare Department, but Shum took time to get involved in the sale of masks during the shortage. In February, the PTU made a small amount of masks available for its members to purchase in queue, which turned out to be a disappointment for many. Shum said the PTU has learnt its lesson and upgraded to drawing lots in March. As the supply of other materials such as hand sanitisers and mask cases has stabilised, these materials are back in stock at the supermarkets in both service centres. At the same time, schools can order protective equipment and other materials online at www.hkptu.org/69219.

Shum said the PTU has been receiving a large amount of applications and enquiries since launching the plan on the 10th March. By mid April, more than 55,000 PTU members have registered. Due to the reaction, the PTU needed time to validate members’ information and eliminate repeated registrations before they could finally draw 1,600 members and arrange for them to pay and collect their orders. About 1,300 members have picked up their collections so far – all thanks to the cooperation of members and the efforts of PTU staff.

Continuously Follow up with Education Issues

The pandemic severely impacts the operation of the education sector. The HKDSE, for instance, has to be postponed. Shum said he had to wear masks sitting for his HKCEE exams during SARS outbreak 17 years ago and could well imagine how this year’s HKDSE candidates feel. He added that, as the society comes to a halt because of the pandemic, the PTU’s workload actually increases. “My colleagues are busy following up with requests for assistance from teachers, while giving feedback from the education sector to the government on issues such as the HKDSE arrangement and the situation of kindergartens and tutorial centres at the same time.” In addition to pandemic-related issues, the PTU also continues to follow up with teachers facing political persecution.

It is more necessary than ever for the education sector to unite in face of the pandemic. Shum expressed his gratitude to PTU members for their trust and support as well as to PTU staff for their commitment. He went on to say the PTU has been constantly challenged in the past year and, despite the on-going social conflicts and pandemic, the PTU will persevere in their commitment to their profession and service of its members.

Citizens’ demand for masks began to increase in late January. The PTU ordered more masks for its members’ purchase.

In addition to sourcing masks globally, the PTU has also been proactively contacting local suppliers to provide its members with a stable supply of masks. PTU representatives including Chief Executive Andrew Shum Wai-Nam visited a local supplier.