Long-awaited talks between striking dockers and contractors failed to get off the ground yesterday.
Meanwhile, more than 200 dockers directly hired by the port operator at the centre of the controversy, Hongkong International Terminals, began a work-to-rule - adding to the chaos at Kwai Tsing port, where about 500 contracted staff have been on strike for more than a week.
HIT, which insists none of its employees is taking any kind of industrial action, will today ask a High Court judge to extend Monday's interim injunction ordering striking workers off the docks.
The Labour Department said it had arranged a meeting yesterday between contractors and the strikers.
The department's labour relations chief, Melody Luk Wai-ling, said representatives of two of the four contractors involved arrived at noon, the scheduled time, but left before 10 workers and unionists arrived at 2.30pm. "One contractor returned later… but the other said he could not make it," she added.
Strikers said the contractor whose representatives came back was Everbest Port Services, while those of Global Stevedoring Service Company stayed away.
Union of Hong Kong Dockers spokesman Stanley Ho Wai-hong said the union did not get the time wrong for the meeting. Rather, the contractors had refused to meet the workers in their capacity as union members, and also refused to allow their union representatives to be present.
The union was standing firm on its demand that it represent the workers.
Luk said it had now been agreed the workers would be represented by their unions in the talks, but refused to say if this applied to all four contractors. The unions, however, said they had yet to be informed of any such agreement.
The Union of Hong Kong Dockers has stipulated that representatives of Pui Kee Stevedore Company and Lem Wing Transportation, who did not show up yesterday, attend today's meeting.
Ho raised concerns that the contractors were trying to hold talks with their employees separately to split the strikers.
Yesterday was the eighth day of the strike. The 500 strikers have vowed not to back down until they get a 17 per cent pay rise.
Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions vice-chairwoman Ng Wai-yee said the work-to-rule launched yesterday involved up to 300 crane operators directly employed by HIT.
Video: No bathrooms and 24-hour shifts – the life of a dock workhorse
They are demanding a 12 per cent pay rise and overtime pay of 1.5 times current wages.
Despite HIT's denial its workers were taking industrial action, Ng said crane operators were now obeying a rule that they descend to the ground for toilet breaks. Usually they relieve themselves aloft, saving a half-hour trip. Wong Kwai-ting, president of the HIT Groups Employees General Union, said workers would also ensure that even minor problems were checked by technicians, another time-consuming process.