CTU gained ground over rival in strike
Agnes Lam and Martin Wong
The Beijing-friendly Federation of Trade Unions may have secured its right to represent bar benders during their 36-day strike, but it has lost support from construction workers to its rival, the Confederation of Trade Unions.
Wong Hung, assistant professor of social work at Chinese University, said he believed the marathon labour dispute offered the pro-democracy CTU an opportunity to extend its influence in the construction industry.
'The CTU has very little influence in the construction industry. It is a good chance for a breakthrough as they did quite well in uniting the bar benders,' he said.
The workers have two choices on union membership. They can join the bar benders' union under the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union, which is part of the FTU, or they can join the CTU's Construction Site Workers' General Union.
During the final negotiations late on Tuesday night, the popularity of lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, general secretary of the CTU, and his union clearly grew as 200 workers gathered outside the Labour Department headquarters, listening patiently whenever he spoke. But they booed the FTU's Choi Chun-wah, who represented the workers in negotiations with contractors, before he even spoke. Workers called FTU members traitors, and accused them of trying to take advantage of the hard work done by striking bar benders and the CTU, which organised the strike.
Worker Ng Chan-wing said: 'The FTU's bar bending workers' union only provides us with a place to play mahjong ... They do not help much when we have labour disputes.'
Another bar bender, Wong Wai-man, said: 'The [FTU] abandoned us after the chaos in Central in which some of the workers lay on the road.'
The bar benders called off their strike on Wednesday night after being offered HK$860 for an eight-hour day.
Mr Lee said many had told CTU members they wanted to establish a bar benders' union to represent their interests and fight for their rights. 'They have matured after surviving the strike and series of negotiations. They have learned their rights and how to fight for them.
'The biggest gain for our union is that we have finally aroused workers' awareness about the importance of collective bargaining rights and the power of unity.'
Mr Lee agreed the strike had helped strengthen the image of the CTU and believed it could also boost his and the union's power when talking to the government. 'I can loudly tell the government to stop saying we have harmony and stability in society when we have discussion about combatting poverty in Legco. I can tell the government to look at the strike and ask, if our workers are sharing in Hong Kong's prosperity, why do they have to go on strike?'
Asked about the possibility of the bar benders setting up their own union, FTU legislator Wong Kwok-hing said: 'Workers know well which union is working for them wholeheartedly. The FTU has always tried hard to fight for workers' rights and their interests.'
FTU leader Cheng Yiu-tong said the union mainly focused on serving workers and less attention was paid to co-operation with other labour unions.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung dismissed concern of a possible wave of industrial action following the strike. 'There is no need to feel worried, as the industrial action by bar benders is just one isolated incident and I do not see a wave of strikes will follow,' he said.