Striking Hong Kong Port Workers Cut Wage Demands as Talks Stall

Protesting workers at Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s port operator are willing to lower their wage demands as the strike enters its 31st day, according to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.

About 450 dock workers, mostly crane operators and stevedores, walked out on March 28, demanding higher wages and better working conditions. They had called for a 23 percent pay increase, while labor contractors offered 7 percent.

The workers are open to discussing an increase in the “double digits,” Lee Cheuk-yan, the general secretary of the trade union and a lawmaker, said by phone on April 27. “I hope talks can take place very soon but the missing link now is the negotiating party for the crane operators,” he said.

Dock workers surrounded Li’s 70-story building in the city’s Central district last week after rejecting a pay raise as inadequate amid rising living costs and record home prices. Hong Kong is the world’s third-largest container port, lagging behind Shanghai and Singapore.

“We are actually shuttling among various parties with the objective of reconvening the fourth round of negotiating meeting,” Matthew Cheung, Hong Kong’s labor secretary, said April 26, according to a government transcript.

Li’s Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. failed to persuade a Hong Kong court to order the protesting workers to leave his building, according to a company press release.

The Union of Hong Kong Dockers said 3,000 people took part in a rally April 26 at the Government House, the official residence of the city’s chief executive, while the police said 600 people participated, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

The striking workers earn HK$55 an hour, according to the union. That’s less than the HK$60.70 they were paid in 1995, the union said. The workers took a pay cut in 2003 during the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak.