Support grows for workers in pay battle

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2007, 12:00am

Academics and students join rally

Ironworkers' wage battle grew in momentum yesterday as supporters from the wider community - including academics, social workers and students - took to the streets in a rally to mark the 12th day of their strike.

Nearly 1,500 people marched from Chater Garden to the Government Headquarters in a dispute that saw talks stall last week.

Teachers, cleaning workers, feminists and other construction workers were also among those backing the metalworkers yesterday.

'We social workers have stable income, but the ironworkers do not. They should get fair pay,' Cheung Kwok-che, president of the Social Workers' General Union told those who joined the march.

Wearing red headbands to show their determination to fight, the metalworkers also carried a three-metre-long steel bar symbolising they were strong enough to cope with tough work, but financially fragile when it came to supporting their families.

The tense atmosphere was eased a little when the workers were greeted with red roses handed out by representatives from the Association for Advancement of Feminism.

After the rally, a group of about 50 academics, students and individual activists also issued a joint statement in support of the workers and organised an online signature campaign.

'The ironworkers' fight is only a manifest of exploitation that other workers in Hong Kong are facing' said Ip Iam-chong, a teaching fellow at Lingnan University's Department of Cultural Studies who initiated the campaign.

The rally organisers deployed about 60 volunteers for crowd control and workers were warned to stay calm if they were provoked by 'scabs'. The rally went off in an orderly fashion.

Police had earlier objected to the rally, citing traffic jams caused by demonstrations in Central and Yau Ma Tei. But that was overturned by an appeal body.

Despite growing support for the workers, the contractors' association yesterday poured cold water on the strike, saying its stance had not changed.

'There is neither new concessions nor conditions because they had this rally today,' a spokesman for the contractors said. He did not say when talks could resume.

The association's last offer was to give casual ironworkers HK$850 per day, but workers are demanding HK$950.

Legislator Lee Cheuk-yan - leader of Confederation of Trade Unions, which organised the rally - called on the contractors to raise the rate immediately. 'We'll carry on the strike until the contractors are willing to resume talks and raise pay,' he said.

A spokesman for the Labour and Welfare Bureau said yesterday it was trying its best to communicate with employees and employers, and mediate in the dispute. 'We hope that the bar-benders and their employers would show mutual understanding towards each other to narrow their differences. We also hope that the bar-benders will resume work as early as possible,' he said.

Luk Kwan-ngai - chairman of Hong Kong Construction Bar-Bending Union, which is an affiliate with Federation of Trade Unions - said there had been no signs so far that the contractors would concede to further demands.

The workers said they would continue their strike and protest at a Ho Man Tin construction site until employers resumed negotiations.