Shopkeepers at a Tin Shui Wai estate and activist group Link Watch yesterday pledged to join forces with Siu Sai Wan vendors to fight what they see as exploitation by The Link Management.
Shopkeepers at Chung Fu market near Tin Chung Court, in the western New Territories, said they were likely to join the strike planned by vendors at Siu Sai Wan estate, Chai Wan.
At least 40 of the Siu Sai Wan shopkeepers plan to close at the same time at the end of the month and later mount a rent strike if their demands are not met. They are seeking a halt to rent rises and terminations of tenancies imposed after The Link took over 180 former Housing Authority malls and car parks in November.
Chung Fu Market Shopkeepers' Rights Association leader Ma Wai-piu pledged support for the strike.
'We will join their action and want to contact other housing estate shop owners to mount a bigger action. We are in the process of finding more people to support us,' said Mr Ma, 45, who urged shopkeepers to be united. 'If we back down, society will be darker.'
He will contact leaders of the Siu Sai Wan shopkeepers' group planning the strike. In the meantime, the Chung Fu vendors will set up a temporary group to discuss details of the plan.
Siu Sai Wan shopkeepers yesterday called on other estates to support their strike if The Link failed to reply to their demands by the end of this month.
Fishmonger Tsoi Chung-keung, 48, chairman of the Siu Sai Wan Estate strike group, said he was delighted that shopkeepers elsewhere were keen to join the battle.
The date of the strike had still to be decided, he said, as they hoped more estates would participate.
Most of the 58 Chung Fu market vendors had rent rises of 20 to 30 per cent imposed in February by contractor Modern Market Management, which won a tender from The Link Management to sub-lease to the vendors.
One small meat store is facing an increase of more than 50 per cent, from $29,622 a month to $45,000. At least nine shops have shut, and some shopkeepers are planning to close and apply for welfare.
Unable to afford the new rent, six shopkeepers have continued to pay the old rent and have been sued by Modern for illegal occupation.
They will appear again in the District Court in September.
Referring to the rent increases in Chung Fu market, The Link said the rental agreements between shopkeepers and the contractor concerned 'are mutually agreed and follow general commercial principals ... Our representatives have kept in contact with shopkeepers and the contractor to strengthen communication'.
It also insisted its handling of tenancy matters and rent adjustments was in line with the market.
'Our principle in setting rents is 'value for rent'. Rents are set or adjusted with reference to the circumstances of individual shops,' a spokeswoman said.
The Link Watch said it was willing to help the Siu Sai Wan group shopkeepers join up with shopkeepers city-wide. Legislators have joined activist Florence Cheung Man-wai, who is leading protests against Link, and has accused it of forcing people out of business and creating unemployment.