Hundreds of striking dock workers and their supporters ended their occupation of the Kwai Tsing container terminal last night after its operators won an injunction against 14 unionists and any other unauthorised demonstrators entering the site.
Strike organisers said their demonstration would "continue at a new place", and for now would take place outside the terminal gate.
The injunction, which bars unauthorised demonstrators from entering or occupying any of the four terminals at Kwai Tsing, was given last night as the port operator at the centre of the row, Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), said it expected vessels would be delayed for an average of 60 hours if the strike continued. HIT is a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa, the Hong Kong-listed conglomerate controlled by Li Ka-shing.
Contractors tried to defeat the strike yesterday by threatening to sack workers if they did not return calls by 10am today to say whether they would go back to work.
The injunction, granted at about 9pm, took immediate effect and runs until the parties return to court on Friday. It was sought by HIT and COSCO-HIT Terminals (HK), a joint venture of COSCO Pacific and HIT.
Mr Justice Patrick Li Hon-leung said he needed to find a balance between the constitutional right to strike and freedom of expression of the unionists and the private right of the port operators and others to enjoy the use of the terminals.
Lawyer George Lamplough, for the port operators, told the Court of First Instance the demonstration was not peaceful and its participants were trespassing.
Confederation of Trade Unions lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, who was named in the injunction, said he was disappointed with the ruling.
The number of dockers and supporters occupying the terminal had risen by several hundred to about 1,000 by last night, the fifth day of the strike.
The Union of Hong Kong Dockers called the strike on Thursday and vowed not to leave the site until the workers were promised a 17 per cent pay rise by their contractors, who supply workers to the 12 berths at the four terminals HIT operates.
"In the coming 72 hours, HIT alone have 80 vessels scheduled to call," a HIT spokeswoman said last night. "The average berthing delays are assessed to be 60 hours, up from less than three hours normally."
Last year, Hutchison Whampoa's port revenue grew 3 per cent to HK$32.94 billion.