Kwai Tsing dock workers strike

Hong Kong dock worker strike muddied by politics

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 3:20am

The strike by dock workers at Kwai Tsing has caught international attention, as much for its impact on the region's container traffic as the rarity of such a long-running labour dispute in Hong Kong's free market economy. For all involved, especially port operator Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT) and its complicated web of contractors, the lesson is clearly one of the necessity of maintaining mechanisms at all levels of operations to readily resolve problems. But as the dispute drags on, it is also obvious that there are some in our city only too willing to latch on to significant events and make use of them for political gain. Their muddying of the waters does not help the cause of those trying to negotiate a settlement, nor is it beneficial to our image as a good place to do business and invest.

Industrial disputes in our city always have an element of politics attached due to the involvement of the two main union groups, the Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions and the democracy-supporting Confederation of Trade Unions. But whereas such matters usually only involve employers, unions and workers, this time a host of other organisations have joined in to promote agendas. Using Facebook and other social media to mobilise participants, they include pan-democrat political parties, non-governmental organisations, community groups and students. What began as a demand for higher wages and better conditions by 450 workers has turned into a circus, with all manner of politicised barrows being pushed.

Strikes are easily settled; involved sides need only talk and compromise. HIT has not shown that willingness, instead contending that negotiations are the responsibility of its contractors. Whatever its position, it could at the least be a mediator. The government has been curiously quiet, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying taking 12 days to pledge that authorities would do their best to get all parties to meet. Mechanisms and prompter action would have given less room for a straightforward matter to have become politicised.