Labour chief meets Hong Kong's striking dockers in bid to end 26-day strike
Matthew Cheung calls their first sit-down constructive, but union is less impressed
Phila Siu and Stuart Lau
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung met dockers for the first time yesterday in an apparent attempt to put an end to their 26-day strike.
Speaking after the two-hour meeting, Cheung said it had been "frank" and "useful".
But strike organiser the Confederation of Trade Unions said it was disappointing as Cheung had not offered the help needed.
The minister said he told the CTU to resume talks with contractor Everbest Port Services as soon as possible although another affected contractor, Global Stevedoring Service, has said it would not return to talks.
Global announced last week that it was closing down after June 30 because it could no longer operate with nearly 75 per cent of its dockers on strike.
Cheung called on the strikers to be "pragmatic" in resuming talks with Everbest as it employs about 300 of the 450 striking dockers. "We will continue our best endeavours in helping to defuse this dispute," Cheung said.
CTU general secretary and lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said Cheung promised to contact Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), which operates the strike-hit Kwai Tsing port, to find out who would take over Global's contract. Lee said many dockers received text messages from Global that it was closing after April 30 instead of June. Global could not be reached for comment.
Another organiser, Stanley Ho Wai-hong, said he urged Cheung to look into whether some contractors had broken laws by making dockers work long hours. But Ho was disappointed the Labour Department representative said he had to consult the Department of Justice first.
Ho also said that, if only Everbest was willing to resume talks, he would not take part. He stressed he would resume talks only if Global, or another contractor taking over Global's contract, was willing to join the talks.
Before the 6pm meeting, about 200 dockers marched from their strike base at Cheung Kong Center in Central to the government headquarters in Admiralty. Cheung Kong Center houses tycoon Li Ka-shing's offices and it is his Hutchison Whampoa company that owns HIT.
A police spokesman said the force received no prior notice of the march, which endangered road users.
Meanwhile, a container truck driver yesterday complained that HIT had retaliated against him after he displayed pro-strike slogans in his truck windows.
Yu Kwok-kin said it took him two hours yesterday to register at the entrance of Terminal 6. It normally took half an hour, he said.
Because of the delay, he had to get a new time slot, but the computer system that read his personal driver card told him no more vacancies were available.
Yu then asked a friend to register on his behalf and this succeeded. "I want to know if this is some dirty administrative tactic. HIT has no right to control what I think," he said.
Separately, both the strikers and HIT took their dispute to the newspapers yesterday, placing advertisements. The strike organiser justified the demand for a pay rise of about 20 per cent because of inflation and "exploitation" in the past 18 years.
But HIT said dockers already earned HK$20,000 a month on average and a 20 per cent pay rise would "cause irreparable damage to Hong Kong".