Talks hint at end to strike by Hong Kong dockers
Negotiations may be heading towards a conclusion as workers and employers shift their positions to resolve lengthy dispute
The contractor employing striking Hong Kong dockers refused to raise its pay increase offer last night, a unionist said, dashing hopes the five-week-old work stoppage was nearing its end.
Emerging from seven-and-a-half hours of talks, Union of Hong Kong Dockers spokesman Stanley Ho Wai-hong accused Everbest Port Services of being insincere.
"We are disappointed … We have not seen [Everbest] make any concession," he said.
The tone of Ho's comments contrasted with that of Everbest representative Dick Wong Chi-tak, who said he was optimistic the dispute could be resolved within two days.
Earlier, in a break in the talks, union organiser Wong Yu-loy, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, had said the talks were "heading in the right direction".
Ho's union represents some 450 striking dockers from the Kwai Tsing container terminals which are operated by tycoon Li Ka-shing's Hutchison International Terminals (HIT).
The dockers, who say they have not received a pay rise since 1997, had been pushing for pay rises of 17 to 24 per cent and improved conditions. They recently said they would settle for a "double digit" pay increase.
Ho said Everbest had stuck to its earlier offer of a 7 per cent pay rise and an increase in benefits worth of 2 per cent, with a further 5 per cent pay increase next year. Wong had said before the meeting that it would be difficult for his company to offer a double-digit increase this year.
The only apparent breakthrough in yesterday's talks was HIT finally engaging in direct dialogue with the striking workers' representatives. HIT's representative had acted only as an observer in the previous three rounds of talks.
Striker Kwok Pak-kai, who was employed by the other contractor involved in the dispute, Global Stevedoring Service - which closed down yesterday, citing the strike's impact - said the HIT representative promised to urge the contractor taking over Global's contract to talk to the strikers directly about how to improve pay and conditions.
But Kwok added that HIT did not detail how the new contractor would do so.
Striker Ng Shu-ming, who works for Everbest, said the talks had not narrowed the distance between the two sides. He said the union wanted Everbest to give dockers more rest but that the company had not made any promises to that effect.
Dockers complain that to earn a living wage they have to work shifts of as long as 24 hours.
A fifth round of talks is scheduled for tomorrow.