Tensions over the dockers' strike rose further yesterday as one of Li Ka-shing's top lieutenants publicly slammed unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan.
Canning Fok Kin-ning claimed Lee was not genuinely interested in helping the workers and harboured ulterior motives.
"Lee Cheuk-yan resorts to every means - he doesn't want an outcome at all, hoping that as the strike drags on, he can negotiate with Mr Li so as to boost his own publicity," Fok, Hutchison Whampoa's group managing director, said to reporters on a trip to Beijing. "This [strike] has been using the style of the Cultural Revolution [where people are vilified on banners and posters]," he added.
Fok said he did not believe the dockers' working conditions were that bad and they were "willing to work long hours".
His remarks were the first public ones on the strike from Hutchison Whampoa - the parent company of port operator Hongkong International Terminals, whose contractors employ the 450 striking dockers.
Lee hit back, deriding Fok as the "King of all workers", a swipe at the executive's high pay package, and said Fok could not understand the plight of grass-roots workers.
As for Fok's reference to Cultural Revolution tactics, Lee said: "We just want to express how discontented we feel ... [the head shots] are just comical creativity used all the time in modern society to express the emotions of people," Lee said.
As the strike entered its 24th day yesterday, HIT placed full-page ads in most newspapers in the city, other than Apply Daily, attacking the union's demands as "unachievable". The ad alleged Lee's role in the industrial action was purely to advance personal interests.
In the Chinese-language version of the statement, HIT wrote: "Is someone unwilling to make a deal? Is there someone who wants to achieve his own purpose and is ignoring the interests of the workers?"
But those sentences did not appear in the English-language version of the statement, headed "Breakthrough sought after three weeks of labour dispute".
The ads said "the average monthly salary for dockers has already reached HK$20,000" and the 20 per cent pay rise they have been demanding would "create an impact across other industries and cause irreparable damage to Hong Kong".
Union of Hong Kong Dockers strike organiser Stanley Ho Wai-hong said: "The figures provided by HIT are misleading, as dockers would have to work many 24-hour shifts to earn HK$20,000 a month. But that is still way less than the amount earned by dockers hired directly."
The union, backed by Lee's Confederation of Trade Unions is demanding pay rises of 17 to 24 per cent and better conditions.
Based on advertisement rates for the papers listed online, HIT may have spent HK$1 million or more on yesterday's ads.
Meanwhile, a docker is seeking damages against the port operator and its subcontractor Global Stevedoring Service in District Court, saying he injured his right arm in an electric shock two years ago while working in the control room of a crane at Container Terminal Four.