Long-awaited talks among striking dockers, two contractors and the affected port operator are due to be held today, but the union representing the workers doubts the dispute can be resolved in one sitting.
This came as the operator, Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), said 90 vessels were expected to have skipped the Kwai Tsing container terminals, where it operates, if the strike lasted 25 days to April 21.
Strike organiser Lee Cheuk-yan, a lawmaker with the Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU), said that if talks broke down today, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung should bear the "biggest responsibility".
It is understood the two contractors are Everbest Port Services and Global Stevedoring Service Company. HIT will act only as an "observer".
There will be another meeting in the afternoon involving HIT, the two contractors, the Federation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions. The two unions represent two other groups of non-striking dockers.
"We won't have enough time to talk it through. In my experience, labour dispute negotiations can take up to 24 hours" to resolve, Lee said. He criticised the Labour Department's decision to invite the two other unions, which were not involved in the strike. "Maybe Matthew Cheung is trying to boost the image of the pro-establishment, pro-Beijing unions."
The 500 strikers are seeking a 17 to 24 per cent pay rise. Lee said there was room for negotiation but did not offer specifics.
A representative for contractor Everbest said it was "not impossible" the company might raise workers' salaries by 20 per cent. "I would leave it for [today's] discussion," Dick Wong said. "I don't want to be too harsh by saying 'no' now."
Wong said his company had offered a pay rise to some workers, and they wanted to accept the offer.
"But they said they needed to leave the matter to the union," he said, without specifying how much was offered.