Strike at Kwai Tsing container terminal set to escalate

Unionist threatens escalation as pay talks remain stalled; terminal operator presses employers, warns it will start taking pickets' names

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 March, 2013, 5:48am

A three-day-old strike at the Kwai Tsing container terminal appeared to be headed for escalation yesterday, as both dockers and the port's operator vowed to take tougher action.

Amid heavy rain, about 300 stevedores picketed a terminal roundabout as negotiations over pay with the contractors employing them remained stalled.

The workers are seeking a 17 per cent pay rise, saying their wages have increased only once over the past 15 years.

Port operator Hongkong International Terminals, a subsidiary of billionaire Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Whampoa, said its contractors raised salaries by 5 per cent this year and that workers should be making HK$21,000 per month, up from HK$17,000 in 1997. The company continued to distance itself from the worker-contractor talks.

"The workers are not directly employed under us. We're an unrelated party and have no role in the negotiations," managing director Gerry Yim Lui-fai said.

Lee Cheuk-yan - a legislative councillor and the general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions, to which the docker union belongs - said the workers would intensify their actions if the situation had not changed by last night.

Lee did not detail what the union planned to do but said the striking stevedores accounted for half of the crane controllers and workers responsible for fastening containers. He said he believed the strike had impacted the port's operations.

Yim said Hongkong International Terminals would not "tolerate any long-term action at the terminal", adding that the company would start recording the identities of the people picketing the terminal.

He did not say how the striking workers' names would be recorded but said the company would consider banning "unauthorised people" from entering the terminal. The company wanted to ensure the safety of the people in the port, he added.

"We can't allow so many people to be walking in and out of the terminal."

The company would not seek the involvement of the police as long as the law was not broken, Yim said, adding that the company had no timetable for clearing the area. Yim said he and general manager Edward Tang met the contractors for talks at least 10 times yesterday.

Work at the terminal had slowed down because of the strike, but ships could still go in and out of the port, he said.

About 100 people returned to work for one contractor after it promised to raise salaries by 20 per cent in two years.

Unionist Lee urged Hutchison Whampoa to join the talks between contractors and workers.

"It's shameless [for the company to say it has no role in negotiations]," he said.

Hong Kong inflation is about 4 per cent and soaring home prices are sparking discontent.