Strike talks revolve around HK$20

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2007, 12:00am

The 35-day strike by bar benders might be resolved this week as the difference between workers' pay demands and contractors' offers had narrowed to HK$20.

The news came a day after President Hu Jintao and Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen had a brief chat about the marathon industrial action during a meeting in Sydney outside the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit.

The Bar-Bending Contractors' Association and workers representatives led by Choi Chun-wah of the Federation of Trade Unions held an informal meeting that lasted nearly five hours at the Rumsey Street Car Park in Central yesterday.

A source said contractors had offered a daily wage of HK$880 for eight hours and 15 minutes of work, but workers insisted on HK$900.

'Workers insist on an eight-hour day if the pay is HK$880. If contractors do not cut the working hours by 15 minutes, workers want HK$900,' the source said.

A new round of negotiations would be held either tomorrow or Friday after the association and workers' unions consulted their members about the proposals discussed during the meeting.

Commissioner for Labour Cherry Tse Ling Kit-ching, who was acting as mediator, said the atmosphere of the discussion was extremely good and the parties had listened patiently to each other's difficulties.

'They have agreed on some proposals on which they will consult their own members. They have also undertaken to resume the negotiation process within this week,' she said.

Bar-Bending Contractors' Association chairman Tsang Tang-fat said they were pleased to find that workers' representatives understood contractors' difficulties.

'Based on a mutual understanding about each others' concerns, we have reached a consensus and we will consult our own members about what we have discussed,' he said. 'Hopefully we could reach an agreement that is acceptable to both parties when we return to the negotiating table in a day or two.'

Mr Choi agreed, saying the parties had made concessions regarding the pay scale. 'We hope consensus can be finally reached in the coming negotiation,' he said.

The Confederation of Trade Unions will hold a meeting today with striking bar benders outside a construction site at Yeung Uk Road in Tsuen Wan to discuss the offer put forward by the contractors.

Legislator and CTU general-secretary Lee Cheuk-yan, who led a march of about 300 workers to the Labour Department's offices in Central, also said progress had been made to end the strike.

'But we still have to consult workers to see whether the proposal is agreeable to them all. The workers have been on strike for 34 days, a record for the labour movement in Hong Kong,' he said.

Working hours remained the thorniest issue during negotiations between striking bar benders and contractors. 'If they cannot agree to offer us eight-hour work, then there is no point in talking,' some bar benders said after learning what was discussed during the informal meeting yesterday.

Contractors had said workers could take a 15-minute break.

'Bar bending is not an office job,' one worker said. 'The longer the working hours, the greater the chances of an industrial accident. Fifteen minutes may be a short time for others, but it is very long for us.'

Construction Association president Conrad Wong Tin-cheung hoped the strike would end as soon as possible, claiming that the association had already done all that could be done. He said more than 60 per cent of bar benders had already returned to work.

A spokeswoman from the Development Bureau said more than 10 of the greater than 200 government construction sites had been affected.