Striking dockers stepped up their action yesterday, moving base to Li Ka-shing's office building at the Cheung Kong Center to urge Asia's richest man to intervene.
A few hours after they set up tents outside the building's main entrance in Central, contractor Global Stevedoring Service said in a statement it "honestly cannot offer [the] 20 per cent rise" demanded by the strikers.
The dockers, on their 21st day off the job, moved their base from the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals after they failed to resolve their pay dispute at a meeting with Global and Everbest Port Services on Tuesday.
"We are besieging the Cheung Kong Center because it's time for Li Ka-shing to step in. He needs to call upon Gerry Yim Lui-fai to come out and talk to the dockers," said strike organiser Stanley Ho Wai-hong of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers.
Yim is the managing director of strike-hit port operator Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), a subsidiary of Li's Hutchison Whampoa.
The Lands Department said the space outside the building entrance was private property. Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said Cheung Kong could get an injunction to remove the dockers, but the firm declined to say whether it would apply for one.
Despite the Observatory's thunderstorm warning yesterday morning, the strikers set up seven tents, 10 canopies and dozens of banners around the Center.
The rain did not deter the dockers, who marched around the building, holding placards and chanting slogans. About a dozen police officers stood by.
Organiser Ho said about 100 of the 450 strikers would take turns staying at the tents while the rest remained at the Kwai Tsing terminals.
"We're staying here indefinitely," he said. "The dockers are very determined."
An HIT spokesman urged the dockers to keep their cool, saying that besieging the Center would not help resolve the dispute.
Separately, five contractors including Everbest and Global issued a statement yesterday in several Chinese-language newspapers. The contractors said they were actively pursuing many proposals and hoped that the strikers would understand that they might not be able to meet all their demands.
Meanwhile, an international campaign team was set up yesterday in London to take the strike to a global level, said Chan Chiu-wai, of strike organiser the Confederation of Trade Unions, who was at the London meeting.
The International Transport Workers Federation, with Britain's Unite the Union and the Federation of Dutch Labour Movement as core members, will run a global funding appeal and line up other foreign campaign bodies that are not ITF members.
It did not rule out action at Hutchison docks around the world, with Felixstowe in England a possible target.