Striking dockers yesterday accepted a 9.8 per cent pay rise, ending one of the longest walkouts in the city's history.
The deadlock was broken when four contractors pledged to write the increase into their contracts and to improve conditions, one of the strike leaders said.
Just two days ago, the strikers voted unanimously against a 9.8 per cent rise, insisting on a "double digit" increase. The salary rise will be backdated to May 1.
Union of Hong Kong Dockers spokesman Stanley Ho Wai-hong said: "This is half successful. The most important reason why we have decided to accept the offer is because of the written guarantee from the contractors."
Yesterday's decision ended the strike on its 40th day.
Hundreds of staff employed by contractors of port operator Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), part of Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Whampoa empire, stopped work at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals on March 28. About 530 dockers - said to be two-thirds of the dockers HIT employed through contractors - joined the strike at its peak.
Yesterday, the 430 remaining strikers and unionists went into a meeting after the High Court ruled that they would be allowed to continue protesting outside Li's Cheung Kong Center until a formal hearing on a permanent injunction was heard.
Emerging after the two-hour session, Ho announced that they accepted the offer and that the strike was over. About 80 per cent voted to accept the offer.
Ho pointed to a written statement sent to the Labour Department in the afternoon by contractors Everbest Port Services, Pui Kee Stevedore, Lem Wing Transportation and Comcheung Human Resources.
In the statement, the contractors pledged all dockers would get the 9.8 per cent rise from last Wednesday. They agreed to allow dockers to stop work for meals or for toilet breaks whenever they wanted and to improve safety with the help of HIT.
The contractors also promised there would be no retaliation against the strikers.
The raise means that, for example, a Comcheung stevedore who makes HK$1,315 for a 24-hour shift will now be paid HK$1,443. The strikers had asked for a rise of about 20 per cent.
But Ho said: "They think that having the written agreement from the contractors is more important than merely a number.
"For years, the contractors have never put things in black and white and have only made promises verbally."
The union will liaise with the contractors on arrangements to resume work. But they would not be leaving the strike base at the Cheung Kong Center immediately, Ho said.
Global Stevedoring Service worker Cho Wai-tak said some were still concerned about their future. Cho, whose employer went out of business last Wednesday, was not sure if he would still have a job.
40 DAYS OF STRIFE
March 28 More than 100 dockers go on strike at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals, seeking a pay rise of about 20 per cent
March 29 The number of strikers doubles, but some workers employed by contractor Comcheung resume work after the company agrees to boost their pay by 10 per cent for two consecutive years
April 4 Negotiations with union fail to get off the ground
April 7 Strikers and thousands of supporters march from Victoria Park to government headquarters
April 10 Talks begin, but the session with strike organiser Confederation of Trade Unions is "forced to end" when contractors say they need to break for lunch
April 11 Talks break down as two contractors - Everbest Port Services and Global Stevedoring Service - offer pay rise of about 7 per cent
April 17 Dockers move protest base to Cheung Kong Center
April 23 Union says workers are willing to accept double-digit offer
May 3 Four contractors make "final offer" of 9.8 per cent