Strike set to end as bar benders take 14pc rise

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2007, 12:00am

The 36-day bar benders' strike looked set to end last night after some 200 workers voted to accept the latest offer by contractors.

Just after 9pm, representatives of the bar benders emerged from a meeting with the contractors, and asked the 200 workers gathered outside the Labour Department's headquarters to vote on a proposal for a daily wage of HK$860 for eight hours of work - a rise of 14.24 per cent. The strikers voted in favour of the plan.

Last night's talks - the seventh formal meeting between the bar benders and contractors - had begun at 3pm at the Sheung Wan offices.

Confederation of Trade Unions general-secretary and legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said the offer was an achievement and asked workers to consider the plan carefully.

'Eight hours of work is our priority. In fact, you can get more from overtime payments if you leave the site later than 5.45pm. More job opportunities can be created, too.'

Choi Chun-wah, from the Federation of Trade Unions, said they would return to the negotiations after the vote.

Earlier in the day, Bar-Bending Contractors Association chairman Tsang Tang-fat said he hoped for an agreement as soon as possible.

Mr Choi of the federation said: 'I hope the contractors' association can be more considerate of the workers' plight. We also hope to resolve the problem sooner rather than later.'

During an informal meeting on Monday, contractors offered workers a daily wage of HK$880 for eight hours and 15 minutes of work.

Workers, however, argued that for HK$880 they would work only an eight-hour day. They demanded HK$900 for an eight-hour-and-15-minute shift.

More than 200 bar benders gathered outside the Labour Department's headquarters yesterday in a show of support for their leaders. They used bricks to form the Chinese characters cheng gong - meaning 'success' - on the floor.

Mr Lee of the confederation was also optimistic of an early agreement. 'It is indeed a very good lesson for the working class in Hong Kong. The marathon strike shows workers should speak out if they are exploited and fight for their own rights instead of staying silent.'

Wong Hung, an assistant professor at Chinese University, said the incident set an example for other workers, especially those who felt they were being exploited.

'The timing of the strike is very interesting. People feel that they have failed to gain from the economic revival which began in 2005,' Mr Hung said, adding that it was a sign workers would not tolerate social inequality.

Dr Wong noted that the strike was supported by people from all walks of life: 'Traditionally, industrial action in Hong Kong has failed to gain sympathy. But not this time.'

Earlier, Labour and Welfare Secretary Matthew Cheung kin-chung, who called the dispute 'unusual', said many parties, including Beijing officials, had helped with mediation.