Talks to end strike could resume on Monday

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2007, 12:00am

Talks between the striking bar benders and their employers may resume as early as Monday, it emerged yesterday as unionists decided to halt picketing in the run-up to the meeting.

The Labour Department issued a statement yesterday saying it was liaising with the two sides and hoped the dispute could be resolved soon.

'The department is making preparations for a conciliation meeting and hopes that such a meeting will be held on Monday,' the statement said.

Dozens of bar benders, who have refused to work for one month, continued their protest outside a construction site in Tsuen Wan yesterday. A rally would be held at the same site today.

Confederation of Trade Unions general secretary Lee Cheuk-yan said the bar benders were ready for talks.

'We have been notified [that talks may resume] and we hope that it will happen,' he said.

Strikers have attempted to stop other workers from entering construction sites in the past week, triggering clashes with the police.

Mr Lee said that, as a gesture of goodwill, the strikers would refrain from picketing at construction sites.

He added that he believed there was room for concessions. 'The differences between the two parties have narrowed.'

The Bar-Bending Contractors' Association, which represents the employers, was not available for comment yesterday. Workers and contractors have held six meetings so far on the pay dispute but failed to reach an agreement.

At the last meeting, on Friday last week, employers proposed raising the daily wage from HK$800 to HK$875, while bar benders insisted on HK$900. They were also divided over how breaks would be arranged if the working period was set at eight hours. Contractors later claimed their proposal had to be withdrawn as the workers did not agree to it.

Commenting on the strike yesterday, New World Development chairman Cheng Yu-tung admitted that a number of construction sites were affected. 'It depends on which one ... not all of them are [affected],' he said. But he warned that if bar benders did get a pay rise, the cost would be transferred to customers.

Federation of Trade Unions legislator Wong Kwok-hing, who led workers in the pay talks, urged employers to stick to the HK$875 per day package as a starting point. 'We hope it [the discussions] will revolve around HK$875 to HK$900,' he said, adding that the workers would insist on an eight-hour day.

Mr Wong also explained that last week's offer was not accepted because it was not proposed until the last minute and they 'felt it was insincere'.

Mr Lee, meanwhile, said that productivity did not necessarily mean longer hours. 'The association should not be obsessed with a minor difference,' he said.