Tycoon Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa on Friday accused unionists and dock workers of making their strike a “class struggle” against the rich and not genuinely seeking a pay rise.
Hutchison singled out unionist Lee Cheuk-yan, the Confederation of Trade Unions and the Union of Hong Kong Dockers for condemnation in a statement published in several Chinese-language newspapers.
This was the first response by the company to the four-week long strike by dock workers. Hutchison is the parent company of Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), which operates the strike-hit ports in Kwai Tsing.
Hutchison accused Lee and the two unions of using tactics similar to those used in the Cultural Revolution to launch personal attacks on Li, the company’s chairman.
“Lee and the CTU have been using different excuses to escalate their action. They uphold the banner of ‘class struggle’, twist facts and make low and venomous insults,” it said in the full-page statement.
It said the unions’ insistence on a 23 per cent pay rise was “extremely unreasonable” and attributed the closure of Global Stevedoring Service, a dock labour contractor that has been in operation for 15 years, to the “highly politicised” means used by Lee and fellow unionists.
“Their aim is to instigate hatred for the rich. They encourage verbal abuse to hurt and demonise Mr Li Ka-shing,” Hutchison said. “They have no real intention to resolve the dispute and only mean to create trouble.”
As well, Hutchison Whampoa on Thursday went to the courts seeking an injunction to prevent the dock workers and their supporters from protesting in an area outside the Cheung Kong Center, where Li has an office.
The workers were calling for Li to step in and help settle their dispute with their employers, contractors who work for the Li’s Hutchison Whampoa subsidiary HIT.
In the statement, Hutchison said it had exercised its highest level of tolerance in dealing with the strikers’ actions, such as the setting up of protest camps outside Cheung Kong Center and the Kwai Tsing terminals and another protest outside Li’s home.
“All these means are very despicable. We in Hong Kong do not want to see these verbal abuse and Cultural Revolution-styled remarks,” the company said.
Lee, who is also an elected lawmaker representing the constituency of New Territories West, hit back at Hutchison on Friday, saying the contractor system was unfair to workers.
"If there was any class struggle, it has been launched by the employer's side," he said.
"What we are doing is merely a reaction to exploitation of workers allowed by the outsourcing system," Lee said.
On Friday, Global notified the Labour Department that it would close next Tuesday and lay off 170 workers.
It said HK$11 million had been earmarked for severance payment.
Also on Friday, Cheung Kong obtained an interim injunction  against demonstrators outside its Central headquarters, barring them from entering the office tower but permitting them to protest outside.