Li Ka-Shing’s Port, Workers Wage Ad War as Strike Continues

Li Ka-shing’s Hong Kong port operator and striking workers published advertisements today in an attempt to win public support as a strike over wages extends to almost four weeks.

Hongkong International Terminals Ltd., one of the operators at the world’s third-biggest container port, said the 20 percent raise contract workers are demanding will “create an impact across other industries and cause irreparable damage to Hong Kong,” according to its advertisement in the South China Morning Post. The workers ran an advertisement in the Chinese-language Ming Pao Daily with a headline questioning whether Li really understands their situation.

The escalating protests come after some port workers were told they will lose their jobs as Global Stevedoring Services Co., one of the contractors which employs them, decided April 19 to wind up operations because it wasn’t able to meet the workers’ salary demand. More than 50 port workers and family members protested outside Li’s mansion yesterday, Wen Wei Po reported today.

Contract workers of Hongkong International Terminals were offered a 7 percent raise by their employers, the company said in an e-mail on April 17. The workers had asked for a 23 percent increase.

The port operator also said it couldn’t meet lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan and the union’s request to have direct negotiations with workers because the company doesn’t employ them.

Matthew Cheung, secretary for labor and welfare, will meet striking workers at 6 p.m. today in Hong Kong, according to a statement on the government website.

Following Suit

“They are targeting the union and the strikers because they don’t want a union victory after the strike, which may cause other workers to follow suit,” Lee, who is also general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, said by phone today.

Workers are asking for the pay increase to catch up with inflation over the past 18 years, according to the advertisement ran by the Union of Hong Kong Dockers today. Workers are paid less than what they earned in 1995, it said.

“This is not a mere fight by hundreds or thousands of port workers,” the union’s advertisement said. “It is also all Hong Kong workers’ fight for their dignity.”

The union called for another rally outside Li’s Cheung Kong Center headquarters on April 26.

Dozens of workers pitched tents around the 70-story Cheung Kong Center in the business district after a protest march on April 17 as government mediators struggled to narrow the differences. The strike prompted shipping lines to divert vessels to Shenzhen, China, from Hong Kong’s harbor, and is the biggest revolt against Li, 84, Asia’s richest man.

Living Costs

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

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.

Hutchison Port was unchanged to close at 81 cents in Singapore trading. Shares of Hutchison Whampoa slipped 0.3 percent HK$80.60 in Hong Kong, while the city’s Hang Seng Index rose 0.1 percent.

The dockworkers at the Hong Kong port earn HK$55 ($7) an hour, according to the union. That’s less than the HK$60.70 they were paid in 1995, the union said. The workers had a pay cut in 2003 during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

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