A main dock contractor caught in the thick of a pay dispute at the Kwai Tsing port has hired 50 new dockers and is sure it can do without all 300 striking workers in two weeks, the company says.
Everbest Port Services would need to recruit only a total of 100 dockers to get all its operations in full swing again, although the new hires would have to work much harder to cover the duties of the 300 strikers, representative Dick Wong Chi-tak said.
The company has another 150 dockers who are not part of the four-week-old walkout.
Everbest's show of confidence prompted Wong Yu-loy, of strike organiser the Confederation of Trade Unions, to say it was impossible to replace 300 people with just 100, unless the new dockers were "iron men".
"Our operation is now 90 per cent back to normal … after we have hired 50 dockers recently," Dick Wong said on the 28th day of the strike yesterday. "I hope [the strikers] will return to work. But if they still stand firm on their demands and do not allow room for negotiation, we will hire more dockers to replace them."
He said it would take only two weeks to hire another 50 men.
The strikers have been demanding HK$100 more per shift, meaning a pay rise of about 20 per cent.
The walkout at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals began on March 28, involving hundreds of workers employed by contractors of port operator Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), which is part of Li Ka-shing's Cheung Kong business empire.
On Tuesday, Stanley Ho Wai-hong of the CTU said that if Everbest granted workers six hours of fully paid rest after six hours of work - and wrote that benefit into their job contracts - the strike organisers could settle for a "two-digit" salary raise instead of insisting on 20 per cent.
Ho was referring to an HIT-arranged interview this week in which non-striking dockers claimed to be enjoying such a benefit. Striking dockers say they have never heard of it before.
Dick Wong said it was not possible to put that down in black and white because workloads varied between peak and off-peak seasons. The clause would deprive the company of flexibility in deploying staff, he said.
He also said he had heard strike-hit contractor Global Stevedoring Service, which had announced it would close down on June 30, would put up the shutters at the end of this month instead. About 130 of the 450 strikers are from Global.
Everbest's refusal to commit the six hours of paid rest to paper meant that HIT's interviewees - whom strikers accuse of being "princelings" of the Everbest owners - had lied, CTU's Wong said. "That means there is no such thing. They lied."
Last night, Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said his family had given HK$100,000 to support the strikers. He said the idea came from his barrister wife, Daisy Yeung Wai-lan.
In the afternoon, about 200 strikers marched around Li's office, the Cheung Kong Center in Central, to press Asia's richest man to intervene. About 20 of them tried to storm the place but were foiled by security and police. Earlier in the day, about 20 strike supporters entered the building and passed a petition to a representative of Cheung Kong.
The company said it regretted that some protesters had disregarded the law by trying to barge into its office.