Three dockers have been laid off unfairly after they took part in a 40-day strike at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals, the Union of Hong Kong Dockers claims.
The union, which organised the walkout over pay and work conditions, said yesterday that three workers of port contractor Pui Kee Stevedore had recently been dismissed from their jobs.
Two were told that minor breaches - forgetting to don a safety helmet and playing with his mobile phone while at work - cost them their jobs.
The third was dismissed after being accused of publicising the company's internal information.
In the past, workers in breach of rules were issued warnings or suspended from work for a few days, but never fired for their first violations, the union said. The severe punishment this time was retaliation against the workers for joining the strike, the union's general secretary Stanley Ho Wai-hong claimed.
"The company should compensate them for the unreasonable dismissal," he said. "The government should also prosecute the company for breaching the Employment Ordinance."
The law bans employers from dismissing, penalising or discriminating against an employee for taking part in trade union activities. Those guilty can be prosecuted and fined HK$100,000.
Wong Kin-ming, one of those fired, was a forklift operator. He said he forgot to don his helmet while working last Thursday and later received a letter of dismissal for flouting safety rules. "I received no prior warning. Isn't instant dismissal too harsh?"
Wong said a colleague working with him that day also failed to put on a helmet, but the man, who had not joined the strike, was not punished.
Another forklift operator, surnamed Ng, said he was sacked for playing with his mobile phone. He claimed he had not done so.
"I went up onto a crane to explain something to its operator," Ng said. "There was something we failed to solve and we sought help from the control yard manager, but he accused me of slacking." He was ordered to stay home for a few days, but was later told he was fired, he said.
The union also raised doubts over Pui Kee's new job contract. Although four strike-hit contractors had promised the government to increase wages by 9.8 per cent, Pui Kee raised the standard salaries of its forklift operators and checkers by only 1.7 per cent to HK$355 a day.
It then introduced a "meal allowance" of HK$45 per shift. But its workers were unsure if they would receive the allowance every day, Ho said.
"Would they get the money only if they stayed on a crane during meal hours? What if the workers eat on the ground?" he asked, adding the company could use this to pay its workers less.
Last night, Pui Kee issued a statement claiming that none of its workers had joined the strike and that it had not undertaken any retaliation. It would not comment on individual workers.
But the union claimed that 20 Pui Kee dockers had been involved in the strike.
The Labour Department said three workers had contacted the department over the matter, and that it would conduct an investigation and bring prosecutions if there was sufficient proof.