A dock contractor at the centre of a weeks-old pay dispute dropped a bombshell on striking dockers yesterday, announcing it would put up the shutters after June 30.
Global Stevedoring Service said it could not keep up its business any more with about three-quarters of its 170 dockers on strike for 22 days - and counting.
Another main contractor that had also been mired in the row said it did not intend to follow suit as its operation had been recovering from the mass walkout at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals that started on March 28.
Global's contract with strike-hit port operator Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) would end on June 30, it said.
"We have made it clear that we cannot grant the 20 per cent pay raise that the union has been asking for," the company said. "Since the proposal we have presented is not accepted, it won't do anyone or society any good to continue like this."
Last week, Global offered only 8.5 per cent, with part of it to be given in the form of benefits.
"Nearly 75 per cent of Global's staff have joined the strike organised by Lee Cheuk-yan and his Confederation of Trade Unions," it said. "Coupled with other attendant negative effects, Global thinks it does not have the ability to restructure its team and continue with its operation." Global would dismiss its dockers according to labour laws, it said.
One of Global's bosses, Lau Kwok-on, said on radio last night that the company would not take part in any more meetings with the strikers. He said the dispute has hurt the image of all the bosses, who have been facing a lot of pressure. He also said that the dispute had become politicised.
Unionist lawmaker Lee, when asked if he felt he had contributed to the folding of the company, said: "We have never asked Global to pay up. From day one, we have been demanding HIT pay up. We actually feel sympathetic to [the contractors] for being caught in the middle."
He said Global would still need to attend negotiations on the dispute with contractor Everbest Port Services and HIT, because it had another two months to go before closure.
Everbest representative Dick Wong said he was not surprised by the announcement because Global's bossess are already old.
The company had hired 10 new dockers after the strike began and would be recruiting more. About 300 of its 450 dockers are on strike.
HIT, meanwhile, called on the strikers to "try to understand the challenges the industry is facing". The firm is a subsidiary of Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Whampoa. Li later told reporters outside his home that he had no comment.
Global's strikers said they had no regrets even though they were losing their jobs. "Even if it is closing down, we will go on with the strike," Chris Cheng Ka-wai said.