Ironworkers and bosses in talks to end strike

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2007, 12:00am

Government mediates in bar benders' dispute

Talks resumed last night in an attempt to break a deadlock in the bar benders' strike that has brought some construction sites to a halt.

Negotiations over pay and working hours between the strikers and employers broke down early in the dispute, which has dragged on for more than two weeks. Last night the government convinced the two parties to hold informal talks.

'The atmosphere of the meeting was harmonious,' said Luk Kwan-ngai, chairman of the Hong Kong Construction Industry Bar-Bending Workers' Union, which is an affiliate of the Federation of Trade Unions.

'Nothing concrete was reached during the meeting. There are still differences, but it was a good start,' Mr Luk said, adding that dialogue would continue. A Labour Department spokesman said: 'We will continue the mediation.'

In the meantime, the bar benders - who today enter the 16th day of their strike - will each receive HK$300 from an emergency fund.

The fund, which was set up by the Confederations of Trade Unions (CTU) on Monday, has raised more than HK$290,000, mostly from public donations.

'HK$300 is a small sum, but at least it can offer a little assistance to the workers with food and travelling as they have earned nothing for more than two weeks,' said Fung Wai-wah, who is monitoring the fund.

Mr Fung, a senior lecturer in social work at City University, said 600 to 700 workers would get the HK$300 in the next two days.

'We will start registration this morning, then we will pay the workers as soon as possible. We hope more people will contribute to the fund to support the workers.'

More than 300 workers continued their protest yesterday outside a construction site in Ho Man Tin.

The bar benders - who shape and lay the metal bars that form the skeletons of buildings - have been offered HK$850 a day rising to HK$950 next August, but they want HK$950 now.

The atmosphere became tense in the morning when about a dozen bar benders tried to enter the site to work.

'Traitors! Traitors!' the protesters shouted as they tried to stop them entering the site. Police allowed the workers through.

In the afternoon, about 20 protesters demonstrated at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, where a seminar on construction safety was being held.

Before the talks between the employers and strikers, Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen issued his second plea in a week for the two sides to solve the dispute peacefully.

'I very much understand the plight of bar benders, especially when they work under the sweltering sun. They have to work eight hours a day. It is a very tough industry.'

He said the government did not want to see construction sites affected and stressed the industry was still struggling.

'Although the overall jobless rate has dropped to 4.1 per cent, the lowest in nine years, the rate in the construction sector remains high at 9 per cent. Under such circumstances, I hope everyone can deal with the problem rationally and peacefully.'

The Federation of Trade Unions, which adopted a lesser role when the strike intensified last week, said it was still assisting the workers.

Its chairman, Wong Kwok-kin, said the union was negotiating behind the scenes.

'We've held discussions with a few business associations and some of the workers have already got HK$950 a day.'