Some workers flexible on pay, but not on length of workday

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 August, 2007, 12:00am

A number of ironworkers have backed down on their demands for HK$950 a day but said their strike - which entered its 19th day yesterday - would not end if employers denied them an eight-hour day.

The development came as the Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) was scheduled to meet Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen today to discuss the strike.

Meanwhile, the CTU said 2,500 protesters - including 40 supporting organisations - took part in a march from Victoria Park to the Central Government Offices yesterday.

Police said 1,500 participated.

Chow Man-yau, a workers' representative at the pay talks, said an unspecified number of workers were prepared to accept a daily wage of HK$900 if the daily working hours were reduced by another 15 minutes to eight hours a day.

The Bar-bending Contractors Association and the Construction Association have remained silent over the past week, but there have been suggestions they are willing to accept an increase in the daily wage to between HK$880 and HK$920 and a workday of eight hours and 15 minutes. The current daily wage is HK$850.

Cheng Yiu-tong, chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU), said on Saturday that he expected the issue to be resolved in the coming week. He criticised the CTU for agitating workers by staging a protest on the eve of talks. Talks are expected to resume within two days.

But legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, general secretary of the CTU, said no unionist should ever deny workers' rights to strike as a union's biggest responsibility was to support workers in labour actions.

'I think our protests have served the strike's mission well, because the government and employers alike should feel pressure now that the issue is no longer confined to the bar-bending industry, but has spread to the community,' he said.

Bus drivers, domestic workers, students, sex workers and others showed up yesterday to support the ironworkers.

Among those marching was Roy Koch, an airline mechanic from the United States who came to Hong Kong to work on a documentary about how the outsourcing of jobs to the mainland has disrupted the labour market in the US. Mr Koch had lost his job after participating in a strike that lasted 444 hours. 'We lost in [our strike]. We hope [the ironworkers] can succeed,' he said.

Mr Lee and two workers carried a 3-metre iron bar weighing 25kg during yesterday's 90-minute demonstration. A banner read 'workers are capable of supporting the bars but not their families'. They were flanked by unionist lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung and Leung Yiu-chung.

Some workers have criticised FTU officials for not participating in labour actions since pay talks fell through two weeks ago.

Casual bar-bender Kwok Sun-fat said he believed the CTU was more helpful. 'It appears that the FTU represents the employers' interests more than ours,' he said.