Pickets mar US fund-raiser

A FUND-raising banquet for the Beijing Olympics bid in New York, which had been inspired by the Beijing 2000 activities in Hong Kong, found itself in the middle of a bitter Chinatown labour dispute.

VIP guests arriving yesterday at the Silver Palace Restaurant for what was billed as New York's biggest-ever Chinese banquet had to pass through about 40 angry demonstrators protesting over having been sacked the week before.

Among the 2,000 guests at the banquet, organised by a Chinese-American group in support of the Beijing bid, were US congressmen Gary Ackerman and Tom Menton, China's New York consul Zhang Weichao, and members of the city's local government.

Newly-crowned Miss Asia Pageant also flew out from Hong Kong especially to take part in the event.

The banquet was organised by a Chinese-American group that had been formed to support the Beijing 2000 bid after they heard about the events organised in Hong Kong, including the gala dinner show at the Convention Centre last week.

''They saw what we were doing here, and after we had discussed it, they decided to hold a huge dinner in Manhattan's Chinatown,'' said Alexander Wan Wah, committee head of Hong Kong Support Beijing 2000.

The Silver Palace, which is part-owned by Hong Kong interests, is unique in being the only unionised restaurant in Chinatown.

But two weeks ago, protesters say, management asked staff to sign new contracts removing their health benefits and obliging workers to share tips with the company.

When workers, backed by Chinatown union the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, refused to sign, they were locked out by management and have been picketing the premises ever since.

Anthony Wan, an organiser of the Olympics function said the Silver Palace dispute was ''complicated'' and he did not want it to interfere with the night's success.

He said sales of the tickets, which went at up to US$100 (HK$774), had raised an estimated US$80,000.