Residents urge striking bar benders to move

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2007, 12:00am

Residents and business operators in Ho Man Tin have urged striking bar benders to move their protest headquarters somewhere else, amid fears it could cause traffic chaos when the new school year starts next week.

Their call came as negotiations between the bar benders and contractors dragged on last night, with the union representing the workers saying the bosses had rejected their proposals on wages and working hours, despite a compromise offer.

During the 24-day strike, workers have gathered each day at a construction site in Kau Pui Lung Road, Ho Man Tin, sometimes disrupting traffic in the narrow road.

Residents' representative Yang Wing-kit said she feared that when school started, students would be put at risk because of traffic and any situation arising from the protest.

'Not only would it be difficult to listen to what is said in the class, students' safety would be at risk if they are curious enough to gather near the protest site,' he said.

Police, meanwhile, are discussing school bus arrangements with about 10 schools in the area.

The Federation of Trade Unions, which represented the workers at the talks yesterday, said during a break that the contractors had rejected a proposal of HK$900 for an eight-hour day, two hours after the meeting began at 5pm. This was a HK$50 reduction from the bar benders' original demand of HK$950 per day.

Meanwhile, Confederation of Trade Unions general secretary and lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, who is leading the strike, said it would be difficult to move to a new location but he would discuss possible traffic detours with police.

'We can extend the striking zone farther down the street, particularly in off-school hours, so we would minimise the chance of obstructing a traffic lane during the busy period.'

About 200 workers burned incense and prayed for victory on the roadside outside the construction site yesterday, with offerings of roasted pig and packs of fruit.

Casual bar bender Ho Sek-pui said it was the first time in years they had spoken out for their rights after the economic downturn. 'If we don't do so, the situation will not improve.'

But they remain unwelcome in the neighbourhood.

Kowloon City district councillor Li Lin said yesterday that the protesters should consider the impact of the strike in pondering their next step.

'It seems that sunset will never come. We are quite mystified why they chose this quiet residential area to stage this movement.'

Car accessory vendor Lam Chun-kit said he was losing HK$3,000 a day because of traffic curbs during the protest. 'Our customers are drivers. Whenever there is traffic control, our businesses will be affected.'

Tyre shop owner Hung Po - who said he had suffered a 90 per cent loss of business - agreed with Mr Lam.

'People avoid driving to Tin Kwong Road, as they fear the protest will turn into a mob.'

CTU organising secretary Poon Man-hon called for community's understanding, stressing that the workers had made many concessions.