Deal struck on metal workers at secret talks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 August, 2007, 12:00am

The pro-government Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) has tried to thwart an attempt by the rival Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) to take over negotiations in the metal workers' industrial dispute by striking a deal yesterday in secret talks with employers and the government.

The CTU, which was not informed of yesterday's hastily convened meeting, criticised the agreement as lacking consultation.

The Hong Kong Construction Association, representing employers, said the FTU had agreed to accept, on behalf of the workers, a daily wage of HK$850, backdated to August 1, with an option for the rate to be renegotiated by next March. The union had also agreed to an employers' proposal of a daily working time of 8 hours and 15 minutes - which workers had previously opposed.

The employers' group also said that it recognised only the FTU as a negotiating party representing the workers.

Yesterday's meeting was called after the CTU had expressed interest in taking part in the talks, originally scheduled for 2pm today.

It came after 700 protesting metal workers brought traffic to a standstill in Central for two hours on Saturday.

The workers have demanded pay of at least HK$900 per day for an eight-hour work day, which the employers said was unrealistic.

CTU leader and legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, who returned from a trip to Italy on Saturday night to take part in the negotiations originally planned for today, said the FTU had ignored workers' opinions in accepting the deal.

'If they had communicated better with their workers, the workers would not turn to us for help.'

Mr Lee plans to meet workers at 10am today outside a construction site in Ho Man Tin to discuss their reaction to the FTU-brokered deal.

Political analyst Sung Lap-kung said the FTU's hasty agreement was partly attributable to its fear of intervention by the CTU, which threatened to hijack the negotiations and usurp the FTU's long-standing support among construction workers.

'I believe [by trying to take over the talks] the CTU is not just avenging the group's invasion into its territory over past years but is also seeking to press the pro-government group into revealing its bottom line on the issue of a minimum wage - which it always advocates.'

Man Wong, a new leader chosen by the metal workers, criticised the FTU for leaving workers in the dark about their negotiations with employers. He said more than half of Hong Kong's 5,000 metal workers had lost confidence in the FTU.