Talks between contractors and striking bar benders delayed again

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 August, 2007, 12:00am

Negotiations between striking bar benders and employers to end a three-week strike were delayed for a second time when contractors postponed a union's call for a meeting yesterday.

However, the Labour Department said the two parties agreed to start a new round of talks at 5pm today at its Central headquarters.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said he hoped the talks would be an important step in resolving the strike.

The Bar Bending Contractors Association said a daily wage of HK$850 marked an increase of 9.5 per cent, more than double the average 4 per cent pay rise for the rest of the workforce.

But president of the association Tsang Ting-fat, who made his first public appearance in weeks, admitted there was room for concessions. 'If we are not making any at all, what is the point of meeting?'

Lee Cheuk-yan, Confederation of Trade Unions secretary and lawmaker, said he expected a few more rounds of talks before the strike could be settled.

A 43-year-old worker was arrested yesterday when he attacked staff at a construction site at Tseung Kwan O as he was attempting to persuade working bar benders - workers who lay the metal bars that form the skeletons of buildings - to join the strike. Mr Lee said the worker was released on HK$500 bail. Later in the day, another group of workers attempted to stop a van, which carried bar benders to work at a site at Tsuen Wan.

Korean farmer and World Trade Organisation protester Yang Kyung-kyu - one of 14 Koreans arrested and who faced charges during riots that shut down the city in 2005 - has been in Hong Kong rallying support for the striking workers.

Scuffles have broken out between strikers and workers on various occasions, with some blaming workers for returning to the job after receiving a HK$300 one-off allowance from the CTU.

Cheng Yiu-tong, executive councillor and president of the Federation of Trade Unions and the workers' representative in the talks, said it would be difficult for a consensus to be reached at today's talks.

Mr Cheng said the FTU - which met 40 workers on Monday to gauge their bottom line - would have organised a collective meeting as well if the CTU was not in control.

'We know and we adhere to the order of the unions even when others have shown no respect for it,' he said. 'We do not interfere when another union is in charge.'

The negotiations, which were originally scheduled to be held at 5.30pm on Wednesday, were first postponed to 2.30pm yesterday when the FTU said it needed time to study the outcome of a CTU poll.