Cash-strapped workers brace for 'long war'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2007, 12:00am

Some striking ironworkers are borrowing money in preparation for a marathon campaign against their bosses.

Ng Chan-wai, 50, who has four children aged between eight and 13, said he had already borrowed more than HK$20,000 from friends so he could afford to join the strike.

'My kids are still studying and the new school year is coming close. I have to buy books and uniforms for them. I am lucky my friends are supportive and lend me money to cover my children's school expenses,' he said.

Mr Ng, who has been working as a bar bender for more than 20 years, said he was also thankful that his wife was supportive. 'She tells me that joining the strike is the right thing to do and she gives me her full support, though I have to borrow money from friends so that she can buy food and cover household expenses,' he said.

'I know many ironworkers have ended up divorced as their wives left them after their pay was cut. Our pay scale once reached HK$1,200 for a shift before 1997 but now we only have about half of that amount.'

Despite the financial difficulties, Mr Ng is confident the workers will stay united to continue their struggle for a pay rise.

'Some contractors do not pay us two to three months after we have done the work,' he said. 'So we are used to having no income for a month or two. The strike has only lasted for seven days so far. We can win this war.'

Another ironworker, who gave his name as Mr Limbu, from Nepal, shared Mr Ng's feelings. 'It is incredible that Chinese and Nepalese ironworkers can stay united and fight this battle together. With such strong unity among workers, I think we will win this war.'

The father of three said he was also prepared for a long fight. 'I have already borrowed about HK$5,000. My family burden is quite heavy as I just had a child three months ago.

'But my wife fears for my safety by taking part in the strike. I know all workers have money problems and we have the same worries, but we have been suffering from pay cuts for 10 years and it is time to do something.'