Chaos as strikers blockade Central

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 August, 2007, 12:00am

Workers' protest blocks Queen's Road

Metal workers on strike for a fourth day brought traffic in Hong Kong's central business district to a standstill as they faced off with police.

They only agreed to end yesterday's protest when the government agreed to hear their grievances.

After angry confrontations and scuffles with police, the demonstrators were corralled into an area on Queen's Road Central, and seven were allowed to meet a Labour Department representative.

The meeting yielded no results, and they vowed to stay on strike until their demands for higher pay and shorter working hours are met.

Hundreds of welders and bar benders from at least 20 construction sites have joined the strike, which began on Wednesday.

Yesterday, around 500 marched from a building site in To Kwa Wan to the Star Ferry pier in Tsim Sha Tsui, crossed the harbour and went to the Central Government Offices. When labour minister Matthew Cheung Kin-chung did not respond to their demand for a meeting, about 100 of them went to the nearby junction of Ice House Street and Queen's Road Central, blocking traffic and attempting to stage a sit-down protest.

In a statement, Mr Cheung urged the strikers to wait for the outcome of a meeting tomorrow between their representatives, employers and the Labour Department, and appealed to them to show restraint and not disrupt public order. 'Labour disputes should be resolved through rational dialogue,' he said.

Legislator and activist 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung, who was at the protest, said he had tried in vain to contact Mr Cheung six times.

Yesterday's rain-soaked protest brought traffic to a halt in the heart of Central as some of the workers spilled onto the streets.

'Raise our salary, cut working hours,' the workers shouted.

Some broke through a police line and mounted a sit-down protest. Police cordoned off the area.

Traffic was disrupted for two hours from mid-afternoon.

Nearby shops pulled down their metal grilles when some of the workers sat outside their entrances to shelter from the rain.

Bertha Cheng Wai-yue, a Labour Department chief labour officer, met Mr Leung and the strikers' representatives at Murray House. Afterwards, the workers waiting on the street below dispersed peacefully.

Before the meeting, Ms Cheng said negotiations had already brought a 15-minute reduction in the men's daily hours to eight hours and 15 minutes. Welders and bar benders generally work a 10-hour day with breaks totalling an hour and a half.

Although the one-hour meeting yielded no result, Ms Cheng said the workers had made their position very clear. 'I realise workers' wages have not increased for a long time, but you cannot expect us to raise your pay just like that. You have to give us some time. We will continue to hold discussions on the issue,' she told the strikers' representatives.

The Construction Industry Bar-bending Workers Union, whose members are also on strike, said it had not approved of or initiated 'a series of incidents that had affected social order in the past two days'.

The union said it was sorry to see no consensus had been reached between the workers and the employers and hoped the employers could solve the dispute by negotiation.

Police said the force had issued a letter of no objection to the organiser of yesterday's protest, and no arrests were made.

On Friday, three unionists who helped organise a demonstration by the strikers were arrested for organising an illegal assembly, though they were not charged.