Bar benders likely to accept offer from bosses

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

Deal expected to end month-long strike

Striking ironworkers are expected to accept the latest proposal by contractors when they resume talks today, putting an end to industrial action that has dragged on for more than a month.

A spokeswoman for the Labour Department said letters were sent to the labour unions and the Bar-bending Contractors' Association yesterday calling on them to resume negotiations.

'I hope both parties can show mutual understanding and mutual accommodation and bring an end to the strike this week,' Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said.

On Monday, the last time the two sides met, contractors offered a daily wage of HK$880 for eight hours and 15 minutes of work, but workers insisted on HK$900.

A source close to the workers said there was a high chance the workers would accept the contractors' offer, but they would demand the contractors promise that working hours would be cut by 15 minutes next year.

'Workers know they have to show some sincerity in the negotiation and they do want to compromise, if the contractors will do the same - which is shortening the working hours by 15 minutes next year and make it stay 8 hours in the future,' the source said.

Despite the high hopes that they will return to work with a better deal, the bar benders believe that reaching an agreement with the contractors is just the beginning of the battle to safeguard workers' rights, as the dispute over working hours is still not completely settled.

They are also worried that the terms agreed to will not be properly implemented after the strike.

'Reaching a deal with the contractors is only the first step. There is still a long way to go, as we still do not know how the terms we have made over the negotiating table will be implemented, said one of the bar benders' representatives.

'The latest pay offer applies to casual bar benders who work two to three days a week.

'There is a need for supervision to make sure contractors will deliver what they have promised during negotiations.'

About 250 bar benders held a meeting outside a construction site in Yeung Uk Road, Tsuen Wan, to discuss the situation.

Lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, leader of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said there was still a difference between the workers and the contractors over the number of working hours.

'The biggest obstacle for resolving the crisis is that workers insist on having an eight-hour day, but the contractors want to have 15 minutes more,' he said.

'We hope the contractors can take one step further to reach a deal with the workers.

'Cutting down the working hours can in fact help create more job opportunities. The difference between the two parties is very small now.'

The contractors' association could not be reached for comment.

As the strike entered its 35th day yesterday, the president of the Professional Teachers' Union, Cheung Man-kwong, and former lawmaker Szeto Wah visited workers in Tsuen Wan at around noon to offer their support.