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Dockers asking for an increase in pay and better working conditions sit under banners at their camp outside the headquarters of Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing, in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP (AFP)
Dockers asking for an increase in pay and better working conditions sit under banners at their camp outside the headquarters of Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing, in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP

Li Ka-shing’s port workers widen protests after new wage offer

Contract workers were offered a 7% raise in pay compared with the demand for a 23% increase

Hong Kong: Hundreds of port workers at Li Ka-shing’s Hong Kong terminals surrounded his Cheung Kong Center headquarters in the city’s business district after rejecting pay rise aimed at ending a three-week strike.

Contract workers of Li’s Hongkong International Terminals Ltd. were offered a 7% raise in pay by their employers, the company said in an e-mail, compared with the workers’ demand for a 23% increase. Hong Kong government’s mediators have helped narrow the differences between employers and workers, labour secretary Matthew Cheung told reporters on Wednesday.

Unhappy at the offer, more than 200 workers gathered outside Cheung Kong Center, holding placards demanding better pay and shouting slogans against Li. The strike, which prompted shipping lines to divert vessels from the city’s harbour to Shenzhen, China, is the biggest revolt against 84-year-old Li, Asia’s richest man and nicknamed superman by the local media for his investing prowess.

Workers are extremely disappointed with the talks as the wage increase offered is less than the union’s demand, said Wong Yu-loy, a representative of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers.

Employees marched near the premises of the 70-storey Cheung Kong Centre, home to offices of companies such as Barclays Plc. About 100 striking workers are staying back at the Cheung Kong Centre building to continue protests until an agreement is reached on wages, Wong said.

About 450 workers, mostly crane operators and stevedores, walked out on 28 March, seeking higher wages and better working conditions as rising living costs and record home prices spur discontent in the city.

Shanghai, Singapore

Hongkong International Terminals is operated by Hutchison Port Holdings Trust, whose largest shareholder is Li’s Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. Hutchison Port, along with partner Cosco Pacific Ltd., dominates half of the capacity at Hong Kong, the world’s third-largest container port behind Shanghai and Singapore.

The strike in Hong Kong prompted shipping lines including Evergreen Marine Corp Taiwan Ltd. to divert vessels to Shenzhen, China. Terminals controlled by Hutchison Port also have a 46% market share in that port.

Chan Tsz-kit, who has worked as a stevedore for 22 years for one of the port contractors, said he decided to join the strike as his wages aren’t enough to meet the city’s expenses.

The companies have forced us into a hopeless situation, said 40-year-old Chan, who shifted his house to neighbouring Shenzhen because he can’t afford Hong Kong rents. Our pay can never catch up with inflation. Everything is so expensive now.

Work to Rule

The dockworkers at Hong Kong port earn HK$55 ($7) per hour, according to Union of Hong Kong Dockers. That is less than what the workers were paid in 1995, according to the union. The workers had to take a pay cut in 2003 during the SARS outbreak.

In support of the dockworkers, about 300 crane operators, hired by Hongkong International, began a work-to-rule action on 4 April, according to Sin Hiu-yan, a spokeswoman of Hongkong International Terminal Group Employees General Union. To play strictly by the rulebook, the workers took an on-the-ground toilet break, instead of relieving themselves aloft to save a half-an-hour trip to the ground, Sin said.

The daily financial loss caused by the strike narrowed to HK$2.4 million on 5 April from HK$5 million earlier as an increasing number of workers returned to the port after the strike began, according to Hongkong International.

In Australia, where Hutchison is building container terminals, agreed to pay dock workers at least A$80,000 ($82,928) a year, Joe Deakin, assistant branch secretary at Maritime Union of Australia, said on Wednesday. Deakin was in Hong Kong to support the striking workers.

It’s unfair that workers here have been subjected to terrible treatment by Hutchison subcontractors, he said. Yet, workers in Australia are going to be treated decently, that’s not right. Bloomberg

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