More sites hit by strike amid dwindling hope of new talks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2007, 12:00am

No sign of negotiations between bar benders and contractors

There is little chance of a new round of negotiations this week between striking ironworkers and contractors, a government source said yesterday.

The assessment came as the number of construction sites seriously affected by the dispute jumped from nine at the end of August to 14 yesterday, while the number of bar benders on the job remained at about 930. There are 166 construction sites in the city. Bar benders lay the girders that form the skeletons of buildings.

'We are not optimistic that the workers and the Bar-bending Contractors' Association will return to the negotiating table this week,' the source said, adding that the contractors were furious with the workers for refusing to compromise when given a new offer.

At talks last week, the contractors added HK$25 to the HK$850 daily wage they offered on August 12. But this was rejected by the Federation of Trade Unions, which is insisting on HK$900.

The leader of the rival Confederation of Trade Unions, legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, admitted the breakdown in talks had made it more difficult to solve the crisis.

'We will have to adopt a new strategy, which is extending our battlefield to all construction sites instead of gathering striking workers at one particular site,' he said. Mr Lee said workers' spirits were still high.

The union has formed five marshal teams, with 20 in each group, that visit about 20 construction sites a day to try to persuade workers to join the strike.

'We want to exert more pressure on the contractors by visiting more construction sites in the hope of bringing them back to the negotiating table,' Mr Lee said. 'We hope the government can take a more active role in mediation, but I have not heard from them so far.'

As the strike entered its 28th day, only 400 workers actively took part in the strike yesterday, compared with the peak a few weeks ago when more than 1,000 showed up at sit-in protests.

About 200 workers gathered at a construction site in Yeung Uk Road, Tsuen Wan, while the rest split into five groups and protested outside other construction sites across the city.

Police were called to a site in Tung Lo Wan Hill Road in Sha Tin when striking bar benders obstructed a coach that was believed to be carrying workers.

'We know that some workers have to borrow money to survive the marathon strike, and some prefer working to taking part in the strike. We understand that they have economic difficulties,' Mr Lee said.

Bar bender Liu Keung is one of those who has returned to work in Macau.

'Many workers are not as confident as before and some of us feel quite defeated,' he said. 'We travelled to Hong Kong and joined the industrial action on the second day of the strike. But we do not see any hope after the pay dispute has dragged on for nearly a month.'