The city's largest port operator announced yesterday it would guarantee all dockers hired by subcontractors would get a pay rise higher than the inflation rate in the wake of last year's strike.
Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) also warned its subcontractors that their contracts may not be renewed if they were found to have failed to treat their workers fairly.
But last night the promise of a pay rise higher than last year's inflation rate - 4.3 per cent - was greeted with disappointment by the Confederation of Trade Unions, which said it had been expecting a double-digit rise.
Kelly Tam, HIT's human resources general manager, said: "When we discuss with subcontractors their contract renewals, we'll also talk about employees' pay rise arrangement for 2014.
"We hope to listen to the views of employees and take into account inflation, the company's performance and the economic environment." The pay rise figure is expected to be announced in May, she added.
Franco Ning Fuk-kei, assistant general manager of operations, said that over the last 10 months the company had implemented more than 20 measures to improve the working conditions of dockers.
Those measures included renovating the operating cabs of some cranes and installing 17 additional washrooms in the container yard area.
He said HIT "has learnt a lesson from last year's strike", adding: "We treat our directly hired staff and the employees of subcontractors the same. Our company has the role and responsibility of monitoring subcontractors."
Ning said: "If any subcontractors are found to [have exploited their employees], we may consider not renewing their contracts."
He added that the company had yet to discuss with one subcontractor, Comcheung, reports that it had promised to offer a 9.8 per cent pay rise to dockers.
Last year's strike was the longest in the city's history, starting on March 28 and finishing on May 6. At its peak, more than 500 dockers were on strike - said to be two-thirds of the total employed through subcontractors.
It ended after subcontractors offered all dockers a 9.8 per cent pay rise and improved working conditions.
Last night, Wong Yu-loy, organising secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said the guaranteed rate announced by HIT was "disappointing".
"We asked for a 23 per cent pay rise in the strike to compensate for all the inflation rates since 1995 that went ignored, and we compromised as subcontractors promised to offer that pay rise over two years," he added.
Wong said dockers would express their views directly to HIT and would fight for a double-digit percentage pay rise for this year.
But another unionist said HIT's announcement was an "unbelievable breakthrough" and described it as a direct result of last year's strike.
"If what they said really comes true, it's good news for subcontractors' employees," said Chan Woon-fai, finance officer of the Docks and Ports Industries Union. "It also shows that HIT is desperate to keep staff as the turnover of subcontractors' employees is high after the strike."
HIT, part of Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Whampoa empire, recorded a 12 per cent drop in total throughput in 2013 year on year.