Rival union fails to turn pay-talks tide

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2007, 12:00am

CTU to brief angry metal workers today after taking over salary negotiations

The pro-democracy Confederation of Trade Unions took over last night from its pro-government rival in a tug of war to represent striking metal workers in a pay dispute, but said a few hours later that it had been unable to do any better.

The CTU won bargaining status with the employers after the angry construction-site workers splashed water over Federation of Trade Unions negotiators who had outlined a 'consensus' they said had been reached with employers at a secret meeting on Sunday night.

CTU leaders went into a meeting with employers and the government at 7pm but emerged saying it seemed the employers' proposal - a HK$50 rise to HK$850 a day, rising to HK$950 next August, with the possibility of a review in March - was the most they would offer.

'The employers said the proposal was their bottom line. They cannot give in any more,' CTU leader and legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said. He said the CTU would brief workers on the outcome of the talks outside a construction site in Ho Man Tin this morning and discuss the next steps.

The developments came on the sixth day of the strike by workers who caused chaos on Saturday when they blockaded Central in an effort to persuade the government to take notice of their demands.

About 500 metal workers gathered outside the construction site yesterday morning for a briefing by the FTU on Sunday's meeting.

Luk Kwan-ngai, chairman of the Hong Kong Construction Bar-bending Workers' Union, said the FTU had not accepted the employers' proposal and was only relaying it to the workers. He called on them to return to work if contractors offered them the package put forward at the meeting - HK$850 a day backdated to August 1, increased to HK$950 next August, with an option for the rate to be renegotiated before March.

But workers booed loudly when they heard the news.

Claiming that negotiations had ended, Mr Luk blamed the CTU for provoking the workers, saying the rival group was not recognised by the employers as a party for negotiation. 'We can see that it has been the CTU leading the action all along ... when it comes to a point that they can't solve the mess, they may just shrug and leave,' he said.

CTU organising co-ordinator Mung Siu-tat denied the claim and said they had helped to push forward the negotiations.

Mr Lee, who arrived less than an hour after the FTU unionists left just after noon, was welcomed with applause. 'We should not blame each other,' the CTU leader said, denying that the dispute had been politicised.

'The most important thing is to co-operate to help workers.'

At about 2.30pm, Bertha Cheng Wai-yue, a Labour Department chief labour officer, met Mr Lee and strikers' representatives for about two hours in a police car, but afterwards said only: 'Not everything happens in our life lives up to our expectations. How many people can realise all their wishes?'

A high-ranking official said the government had no bias towards any workers' unions and had never barred any particular union from taking part in talks. It was the employers' decision who they would talk to.

'It is like a quarrel between a husband and wife. It is not the work of an outsider to tell [the employers] how much they should pay the workers. We must remain low-key.'

FTU legislator Wong Kwok-hing, who had represented workers in the past few days, described Sunday's proposal as the ultimate one.

'Up till now, this is as far as we can go. We have tried our best ... but employers are still not willing to concede further,' he said, adding that the CTU took a radical approach. 'Their way of handling the protest also makes people think workers are uncivilised.'

Fung Wai-wah, of City University, said the way out now was for the government and employers to include the CTU in the talks and recognise their collective bargaining status.

Division of labour

The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (FTU)

Established in 1948

Membership about 300,000

Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU)

Established in 1990

Membership about 170,000