Li Ka-Shing Fails to Get Order Barring Striking Protesters

Billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. failed to persuade a Hong Kong court to order protesting dockworkers to leave immediately his building in the city’s Central district.

High Court of Hong Kong Judge Derek Pang said yesterday that the request for an injunction to bar legislator Lee Cheuk-yan and unionists from Cheung Kong Center and surrounding areas isn’t urgent and involves freedom of expression, according to a company press release and a report on the website of government broadcaster RTHK. The judge will hear arguments from all parties on May 3.

“The judge has indicated he would agree that the demonstrators be restrained from unlawful entry into Cheung Kong Center,” Hutchison said in a statement. While the company respects freedom of speech, protesters haven’t been peaceful and have caused “intolerable nuisance and disruption.”

The dockworkers surrounded Li’s 70-story building -- home to the offices of Barclays Plc, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bloomberg LP -- last week after rejecting as inadequate a pay raise aimed at ending a strike. Dozens of striking workers are sleeping in tents surrounding the building. They have put up caricature pictures of Li while police and security guards patrol the area.

Cheung Kong Center

Cheung Kong Center yesterday put up a notice telling the workers that if they didn’t leave by noon, they could be subject to criminal prosecution. As of 11 p.m. in Hong Kong today, the demonstrators with their tents surrounding the entrances showed no signs of moving. The protesters earlier this evening marched to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s official residence, according to the government website.

Separately, the High Court today granted a temporary injunction to the building’s management, allowing them to ban the strikers from entering the building to demonstrate, Hutchison said in a statement on its website today.

The workers have no intention to demonstrate inside the building, said Wong Yu-loy, a representative of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers.

Occupy Delay

When protesters of the Occupy movement were given a deadline last year to leave the premises of HSBC Holdings Plc’s Asian headquarters, court bailiffs only moved them out more than two weeks later.

The biggest industrial action ever faced by Li has led at least 100 vessels to skip Hong Kong in favor of nearby ports. The strike is at Hongkong International Terminals Ltd., which is operated by Hutchison Port Holdings Trust, whose largest shareholder is Li’s Hutchison Whampoa.

Hutchison regrets the strike has involved personal attacks on its chairman and other management, the company said in an advertisement published in the Chinese-language Ming Pao Daily today. It hopes workers will resolve the issue with contractors and return to their posts soon, it said.

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.

Workers employed by labor contractors at the terminals were offered a 7 percent raise by their employers, compared with the workers’ demand for a 23 percent increase amid rising living costs and record home prices. Government mediators have helped narrow the differences between employers and workers, Labor Secretary Matthew Cheung told reporters April 17.

Possible Escalation

The workers, who walked off the job on March 28, will continue to press for better pay and working conditions, and won’t rule out further escalation of protest, the union’s Wong said.

“We will continue to think about escalating actions,” Wong said. “To be honest, we did expect the strike to last a long period, but I have to say that we didn’t expect it could last such a long time, four weeks. But we are determined.”

Li is Asia’s richest man with a total wealth of $27.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Hutchison Whampoa was little changed to close at HK$83 in Hong Kong trading. Hutchison Port Holdings Trust added 0.6 percent to 84 cents in Singapore trading.

(Updates attribution on injunction in 6th paragraph.)
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