Elizabeth Tang receives Arthur Svensson Award in absentia for her efforts to promote the rights of domestic workers

Photo: Privat

The winner of the Arthur Svensson Award, Elizabeth Tang, is currently not permitted to leave Hong Kong and was not able to receive her award at yesterday’s ceremony in Oslo.

Elizabeth Tang is the General Secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) and former Chief Executive of Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU). IDWF is a global organisation that seeks to protect and promote the rights of workers in private homes. They have 88 affiliated member organisations from 68 countries with a total membership of more than 670,000.

Lita Anggraini, a union leader from Indonesia; and Shirley Pryce, a domestic worker from Jamaica received the award on behalf of IDWF at the Arthur Svensson Award ceremony in Oslo on Wednesday 14th June evening. Photo: Hong Kong Committee in Norway

“It is a sad reality that the authorities in Hong Kong refuse Elizabeth Tang to come to Norway and receive the award and we are concerned about her situation. The award is an expression of our solidarity with IDWF in domestic workers’ fight for better working conditions,” says Espen Løken, Industri Energi advisor to NTB.

The international award was established in 2010 by Industri Energi to promote and strengthen trade unions and trade union rights internationally. The award is named after Arthur Svensson, who was one of the Norwegian trade union movement’s most prominent leaders and has said to have left deep traces in Norwegian society by creating better conditions for workers both at home and abroad.

In a YouTube video, Espen Løken, said that the award committee wanted to shine a spotlight on Elizabeth Tang and her important work at IDWF supporting an extremely vulnerable group, and furthers “They provide the women in particular with a network, strength, and information about their rights, and provide training in conducting trade union work through the member organisations. The award is also a strong call to the ILO’s member countries to ratify ILO Conventions 189 and 190, two conventions which are crucial for a dignified working situation for workers in private homes.”

According to several media reports, Tang was arrested in March on the suspicion that she had colluded with foreign forces to endanger national security. She was arrested after visiting her husband, Lee Cheuk-yan, a prominent pro-democracy lawmaker and veteran activist, who has been jailed for unlawful assembly and other offences, including a banned June 4 candlelight vigil in 2020 marking the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

The International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) in their statement, stands in solidarity with Elizabeth Tang and urges for her immediate and unconditional release which will be a triumph of justice, “Elizabeth’s journey has been a testament of courage, fearlessness, and resilience in the face of adversity. Her perseverance is a powerful declaration of her ability to confront and overcome obstacles, regardless of the risks involved. The IDWF Executive Committee, staff, and the global labor movement as a whole, stand together with Elizabeth, in solidarity and strength. We know in our hearts that the power of people will always prevail.”

Elizabeth Tang has been involved in the labour movement since the early 80s. IDWF’s efforts were central in the efforts to get ILO Convention 189 on decent work for employees in private homes in place, especially the elimination of violence and harassment in working life. They are now focusing on getting more countries to ratify and implement this convention. The vast majority (76% of 75.6 million workers) of domestic workers are women who work as maids, cleaners, babysitters, cooks, and similar occupations.

In a press release, The Hong Kong Committee in Norway congratulates Elizabeth Tang on her award, “We deeply admire Elizabeth Tang’s commitment to advance the condition for domestic workers, including migrant domestic workers. We also condemn the Hong Kong authorities for their cruel suppression of the city’s civil society, which this case bears witness to.”

Livestream of the ceremony can be seen here.

Ka Man Mak

Ka Man is an investigative journalist, documentary photographer, and social entrepreneur, as well as the founder of The Oslo Desk. She is a British-born Hong Konger residing in Oslo, Norway. She holds a Master in Environmental Geoscience and have taken numerous diplomas including child psychology, and a course in big data analytics at OsloMet. Made numerous publications in newsletters, magazines and Norwegian newspapers. Interested in edtech, constructive journalism, women in migration, Cantonese language, alternatives to capitalism and asylum policy.