Kwai Tsing dock workers strike

Get back to talks in Hong Kong dock dispute

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 April, 2013, 2:09am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 April, 2013, 3:03am

Patience is wearing thin as the strike at the container terminal has dragged on for weeks without any sign of coming to an end. Over the weekend, the situation worsened after bosses and unionists stepped up attacks against each other. The escalating tension is not just counter-productive to negotiations, it also risks provoking public anger against the rich and powerful if the consortium behind the scenes continues to stay away. Instead of trading insults through the media, the parties concerned should talk and try to compromise. The deadlock is best resolved with cool heads rather than finger pointing.

The case seemed straightforward enough to settle at first, with dock workers demanding better wages and working conditions. But the strike by a few hundred was soon whipped up into one of the most protracted in recent memory, after it was portrayed as a matter of social injustice and backed by a host of groups in other sectors. The drama is further complicated by a confusing web of contractors and publicity on social media. One key contractor is winding up as a result. That Hongkong International Terminals, the container port operator, continues to dodge negotiations has also fuelled the fray. Little wonder that tycoon Li Ka-shing, who has a major stake in port cargo business, has become the target.

Meanwhile, the government raises eyebrows with its unusually passive attitude. Although public life remains largely unaffected, that does not mean mediation is best left to bosses and employees. In an increasingly competitive environment, any loss of business, however small it is, will affect the city's logistics industry and the economy as a whole.

The incident also highlights a broad range of labour and social issues, such as standard working hours and the right to collective bargaining. The dispute has already fuelled tension between the haves and have-nots in society. It would be dangerous if the social sentiment deepened and the impasse dragged on. Both sides should return to the negotiating table to iron out their differences.