Striking Kwai Tsing dock workers are apparently growing impatient with the situation, threatening to escalate their action if management fails to "show sincerity" in the next round of pay talks.
Unionists ramped up the rhetoric yesterday after port operator Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) tried to play down the impact of the strike, which has dragged on since March 28. The union wants a 17 to 24 per cent pay rise for all workers. HIT said that its container handling was back to 86 per cent of the normal level yesterday.
The company said more dockers had returned to work and its operation was "becoming increasingly normal".
But the union maintained 450 dockers were still on strike.
HIT would not say how many people had returned to work, but said: "HIT has kept open communication with its shipping line customers throughout this period and shipping schedules are returning to established patterns. We expect operations to further improve in the days ahead."
Labour Party lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said HIT was using dirty tricks to undermine morale among the dockers still on strike.
Organiser Stanley Ho Wai-hong, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said: "HIT can ask other companies to help handle their containers to give the impression it's not heavily affected.
"We also heard that it asked those who aren't on strike to work overtime so they can catch up.
"We will escalate our action if there is no meaningful outcome from the next meeting with the subcontractors," he said, without saying how it would be escalated. Management had thus far failed to "show sincerity", he said. The Labour Department said yesterday it was trying to arrange another meeting between the two sides for early this week.
"We are sincere about talking and ready to negotiate. But we won't wait forever for a deal," Ho said. The union had raised HK$4.7 million to help the striking workers, and handouts were to be issued again today, he said.
Yesterday, university students showed their support with a 12-hour march from the Cheung Kong Center, Central, to the Kwai Chung port. Tycoon Li Ka-shing owns Cheung Kong and HIT. Unionists say Li should force the contractors who employ the strikers to pay them more.