Hong Kong Port Workers to Hold Talks as Strike Enters 13th Day

Striking dockworkers at Hongkong International Terminals Ltd., the port operator backed by billionaire Li Ka-shing, will hold talks with their employers today amid signs that the stoppage may be losing support.

Union negotiators will join the talks, Wong Yu-loy, a representative of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers, said by phone yesterday. Hongkong International Terminals executives will also attend the meetings, according to a transcript of remarks by Matthew Cheung, Hong Kong secretary for labor and welfare, published on the government’s website yesterday. The government arranged the meetings, he said.

The dockworkers, who are employed by contractors instead of the company directly, have been on a strike since March 28 to demand an increase of about 25 percent in wages. Shipping lines including Evergreen Marine Corp Taiwan Ltd. and Japan’s Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd. have diverted vessels or skipped calling at Hong Kong, as the strike threatens the city’s reputation as a trade hub for China.

“I appeal to all parties concerned to really seize this opportunity,” Cheung said in his remarks, adding that a solution “must be in the interest not only of employees and workers, not only in the interest of the companies concerned and contractors, but also in the overall interest of Hong Kong. It is very very important because the port itself is very important to Hong Kong’s economy.”

A vessel currently needs to anchor outside of Hong Kong port for two to four days before berthing, compared with no waiting period before the strike, said Paul Tsui, chairman of Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics Ltd., which represents 345 freight forwarders in the city.

Wage Demands

About 250 workers remained on the street outside the entrance of the port terminal in Hong Kong’s Kwai Tsing district, the union’s Wong said. Labor discontent has risen as the former British colony’s wealth gap widened the most since records started in 1971.

Hongkong International Terminals is now running at about 80 percent of usual operating levels as an increasing number of workers are returning, the company said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Daily loss narrowed to HK$2.4 million ($309,100) on April 5 from HK$5 million earlier, the company said.

The workers are demanding that hourly wages rise by HK$12.50 from about HK$50, the dockworkers’ union said earlier. Strikers won’t accept an offer of a 5 percent pay increase, RTHK reported on April 3, citing Lee Cheuk-yan, a lawmaker from Hong Kong’s Labor Party.

The government plans to preside at talks including the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, its unions, two contractors and representatives of Hongkong International Terminals starting at 10 a.m. today, it said on its website yesterday. The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions are set to take part in a separate discussion from 2:30 p.m.

Hongkong International Terminals is operated by Hutchison Port Holdings Trust, whose largest shareholder is Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. Hutchison Port controls more than half Hong Kong’s port capacity with its partner Cosco Pacific Ltd.