Everyone a loser after Hong Kong dock strike ends
As dockers go back, it is time to add up the cost of the action, with workers accepting a lower offer and operator nursing damage to its image
No one emerged as a winner from the 40-day dockers strike, with the workers failing to get the raise they demanded and the port operator involved suffering a tarnished image, analysts said.
And a day after the strike ended on Monday with the 430 dockers accepting a 9.8 per cent raise, port operator Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) estimated the impact the industrial action had made on its business, saying about 100 vessels avoided its terminals during the stoppage.
That was believed to represent just 1 per cent of vessels that were scheduled to arrive, chairman of freight forwarding and logistics Dr Paul Tsui Hon-yan said, although the company declined to give an actual figure on the number of vessels it handled during the period.
Separately, an HIT spokeswoman said the average waiting time for vessels was 20 to 25 hours - compared with about three hours before the strike.
"We expect a throughput drop in April for the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals," she said. "As the labour dispute draws to an end and workers return to their posts, HIT will be able to focus on restoring the port to its full operational capabilities."
She said the operator had resumed 80 to 90 per cent of its container handling capacity.
She declined to say how much the strike had cost the five HIT-run terminals in financial terms, but when the action started on March 28, HIT said it was costing the company HK$5 million a day, although this figure fell to HK$2.4 million a day about a week later.
Apart from monetary losses, Tsui said the walkout had dealt a blow to the company's image overseas. "If HIT wants to run more ports in other countries, the governments there may reject it because of its record," he said.
The strikers had also lost, he said, as the 9.8 per cent raise they accepted was a far cry from their original demand of about 20 per cent. But he believed the raise might exert pressure on other port operators to offer better wages to their contract dockers.
Alan Lee Yiu-kwong, chairman of the Container Terminal Operators Association, said the industry was still compiling the throughput figures for last month, but he expected a drop from March's 1.42 million teu (20-foot equivalent units).
He believed the figure would return to normal this month.
The association represents five port operators including HIT and Modern Terminals.
Dixon Sing Ming, associate professor of social science at the University of Science and Technology, agreed that the dispute had ended with a lose-lose outcome, although the public had become more aware of the workers' plight.
And Lee Cheuk-yan, a lawmaker with strike organiser Confederation of Trade Unions, described the industrial action as being half successful, as it had made dockers and the public better understand their rights. The workers would now have more bargaining power in future talks over pay rises, he said.
But Lee criticised the Labour Department for inviting two other unions - whose members were not on strike - to join talks with contractors.
The strikers, except about 130 of those employed by Global Stevedoring Service, which closed down last week, would return to work tomorrow, Lee said.
He said he had asked the department to press HIT on how many former Global dockers could be hired by other contractors. He insisted that HIT must ask the contractors to offer jobs to all former Global dockers.