Talks over a salary dispute at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals broke down yesterday as two contractors who employed the striking dockers agreed to a raise of only about 7 per cent - a far cry from the 17 to 24 per cent the workers have been demanding for more than two weeks.
Neither side said if it was standing firm on its proposal. A leader of the strikers said they were highly likely to reject a 7 per cent rise, while contractor Everbest Port Services said "nothing is impossible" when asked if there was room for adjustment.
Representatives from the other contractor, Global Stevedoring Service, left halfway through the meeting as the strikers went for a toilet break.
On the second day of talks arranged by the Labour Department, the contractors offered a pay raise of 5 per cent and other benefits that amounted to about 2 per cent, strike organiser Stanley Ho Wai-hong said.
"We can't see their sincerity from this proposal," Ho said. "There is a high chance we will not accept it. The 2 per cent is given only in the form of benefits, such as to buy meals. The workers will continue with the strike, otherwise the last 15 days of our walkout will go to waste."
He said they might escalate their industrial action, but did not elaborate. About 500 dock workers downed tools on March 28 to push for better pay and working conditions, aided by the Confederation of Trade Unions.
Dick Wong of Everbest declined to explain why it had to give out the 2 per cent as benefits, but stressed all workers would get it. "We need to assess our operating costs. [The idea of a 7 per cent raise] is not final yet. We will discuss it again later. Nothing is impossible. In fact, there should be room for negotiation for all of us."
Video: No bathrooms and 24-hour shifts – the life of a dock workhorse
Docker Ng Shu-ming quoted the contractors as saying they would face very heavy operating costs if they granted a 20 per cent increase. "They said there was room for negotiation. But there will not be a lot of room," Ng said.
He also criticised the exit of Global's three representatives before the meeting ended. After the contractors presented their proposals, the strikers went to the toilet for a brief discussion, he said, but the Global people were gone by the time they returned.
A department spokeswoman said the talks went well. She said Global's representatives might have needed some time to discuss it among themselves.
The strike-hit operator, Hongkong International Terminals, sent a representative to the meeting as an observer.
The Federation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions, which were not party to the walkout, will meet the same contractors today for talks under the department's arrangements. As of last night, no more talks had been scheduled for the CTU.