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Dock workers defy Hong Kong's richest person, seek solidarity, attract huge support

Striking Hong Kong dockworkers and supporters march at the world's third-busiest port. The two-week-old strike has bottlenecked cargo and gained enormous public sympathy. Photo: Left 21.

By the Union of Hong Kong Dockers

April 9, 2013 -- Text via ESSF -- Hundred members of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers (UHKD) are striking to demand pay rise while their wages have not risen in the past 15 years. Moreover they are also fighting for the collective bargaining right to negotiate with the management.

We ask you to send protest letters to the Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT) as well as its parent companies Hutchison Port Holdings Trust (HPHT), Hutchison Whampoa Ltd (HWL) and the Hong Kong SAR government to support the dockers.

For this purpose we attach a template which you can adapt and send, with a copy to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (hkctu@hkctu.org.hk).

On March 28, 2013, the Union of Hong Kong Dockers (UHKD), an affiliate of HKCTU, staged a strike at Hong Kong Container Terminal No. 6 in Kwai Chung to demand an ovedue pay raise and an end to their over-exploitation. More than 400 are still on strike now demanding for hourly pay rise by HK$12.5 (USD1.61).

The wages of the dock workers, who are mostly hired by the sub-contractors, have not risen in the past fifteen years. They have been facing health and safety risks daily, working extremely long shifts, and not being given meals and toilet breaks. The terminal is owned by HIT,and it is subsidiary of HPHT and HWL. We urge HIT, HPHT and HWL to respect their demands and their right to strike, association and collective bargaining.

We thank you for your solidarity,

General secretary
Lee Chuek-yan
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions

Please send the protest letter to the following correspondences

Mr. Gerry Yim Lui Fai
Managing Director
Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT)
Terminal 4, Container Port Road South
Hong Kong
Email:com.cst@hit.com.hk
Fax: (852) 2619 7315

Copy to:

Mr. Fok Kin Ning,
Chair, Hutchison Port Holdings Trust; (HPHT)
150 Beach Road,
17-03 Gateway West,
Singapore
Email:info@hphtrust.com (Investors’ Relation)
Fax: (65) 65361-1360 (Registered Office, 50 Raffles Place, 32-01 Singapore Land Tower)

Mr. Lee Ka Shing,
Chair, Hutchison Whampoa Limited (HWL)
22nd Floor
Hutchison House
10 Harcourt Road
Hong Kong
Email:info@hwl.com.hk
Fax: (852) 2128 1705

Mr Matthew Cheung Kin Chung,
Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Hong Kong SAR Government
Email: slwo@lwb.gov.hk
Fax: (852) 2523 1973

You can also send a protest letter from the LabourStart web site HERE.

Stop exploitation now! Dignity to our workers! In support of Hong Kong International Terminals workers’ strike

By Left21

March 29, 2013 -- Text via ESSF -- On March 28, more than 200 waterfront workers at the Hong Kong International Terminals Ltd (HIT) owned by Hutchison Port Holdings braved terrible weather conditions and stood up to take industrial action in a courageous bid to demand rightful compensation for their labour.

Capital cannot produce on its own; without the hard and often painful efforts of those who labour, none of the wealth that capitalists now boast would be possible. In each and every striking worker, we see the dignity of labour – they are the real owners of production, and all they ask for is the just treatment and reciprocation that they deserve.

Only a few days ago at a press conference to announce his company’s annual earnings, Li Ka-shing gave the public a flamboyant display of his wealth. Yet never did he mention that his so-called success has been built on the exploitation of workers. Li happily believes that he has given waterfront workers a job and a cheque to feed their families, but the contrary is true – with their time, labour, mental and physical health, his workers have made an achievement out of his dark and often oppressive terminals. If these workers had not risked their livelihoods and stood up today in defiance of injustice, we would never have known about the terrible working conditions and treatment in Li’s HIT empire: 24-hour work shifts without breaks, no fixed holidays, no formal meal periods, years without a single pay rise, a total disregard for occupational safety and health hazards.

To repay what is indebted is only fair; these workers have sold their labour in return for their basic livelihoods. When the meagre compensation that they receive is far from enough to repay the significant costs of their labour, striking and disrupting production is a perfectly justified way to refuse continued supply of labour and demand just compensation. Yet even as more and more workers have joined their ranks, the company has continued to ignore their rights and demands, and even openly claimed that, despite having no rise but only decline in pay for 17 years, these waterfront workers are not the company’s responsibility. At the same time, the company has condemned the industrial action as ‘irresponsible behaviour’ that has disrupted the operations of the Terminals.

The workers on strike are from numerous parts of the waterfront, with different positions and employed by different contractors. But what is undeniable is that they all serve the Hong Kong International Terminals Ltd that is under Hutchison Whampoa Ltd, and that their situation and interests are aligned. Regardless of how many contractors the HIT has hired to outsource labour, the fact that those at the management level are making their living by exploiting the labour of these waterfront workers is undisputable. We are outraged at HIT’s strategy of shifting what should be their responsibility to the contractors.

Under the current unjust tax system, Li Ka-shing is able to earn huge profits from dividends every year, and yet he is not required to contribute back to the society by paying taxes. Li has already taken every advantage at the expense of the people of Hong Kong. When he has come to monopolise economic and political power to the extent that the majority of Hong Kong is working for him, the suffering of the waterfront workers today is no different from the exploitation of every one of us tomorrow. As members of the labouring population, our fates are tied together. Li Ka-shing does not only owe the waterfront workers just and fair treatment, he owes the people of Hong Kong an explanation.

We demand that Li Ka-shing, Hutchison Port Holdings and Hong Kong International Terminals Ltd immediately fulfill the following:

1. Publicly apologise for the managing director of HIT Gerry Yim’s attempt to disassociate the company with the waterfront workers at yesterday’s press conference.

2. Stop employing temporary workers without a "safe card".

3. Conduct salary negotiations with union leaders who truly represent the workers.

4. Eliminate outsourcing and directly employ all waterfront workers.

5. Improve facilities related to occupational safety and workers’ health, and establish a reasonable workplace safety code.

Left 21

Co-signed by:

Alliance for defending the Grassroots Housing Rights
Grassroot Development Centre

Hong Kong dockworkers strike attracts huge solidarity

By Ellen David Friedman

April 12, 2013 -- Labor Notes -- Five hundred dockworkers are facing down the richest man in Hong Kong (and, according to Forbes, eighth-richest in the world) in a strike that has entered its third week and brought transport in the world’s third-busiest port to a virtual halt.

Li Ka-shing, the billionaire behind Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT), controls more than 70 per cent of Hong Kong’s port container traffic and oversees a vast transnational network of enterprises including the oil and gas giant Husky.

Arrayed against this financial titan often referred to as “Superman” are dockworkers exhausted by 12-hour shifts lacking even toilet breaks, surviving in one of the world’s most expensive cities on wages that haven’t risen in 15 years, and now waging a labour battle that observers are calling pivotal.

The confrontation appears to have tapped a vein of indignation against the “greed economy” and its glaring inequalities, bringing the workers broad public support.

Strikes are rare in Hong Kong, and strikes that gain this much solidarity are unprecedented in recent memory. The dockworkers represent a new level of action among the fastest growing segment of workers: subcontracted, not yet unionised, hyper-exploited.

Fifteen days into the strike, union spokespeople say not more than 20 dockers have returned to work while 120,000 containers sit untouched, ships experience delays of up to 60 hours and daily losses of half a million US dollars mount.

On the other side of the fulcrum, thousands of Hong Kong citizens have rallied to “occupy” the Kwai Tsing Port, bringing vast quantities of food, water, and funds (more than $1 million so far) to ease the strain on strikers.

Solidarity sick-out, boycott

The dockers are holding firm in their demand for recognition of their newly formed Hong Kong Dockworkers Union, humane working hours, safety measures and wage hikes of 15-20 per cent. Under immense public pressure, Hong Kong’s pro-business government has had to intervene to make management negotiate.

A court injunction initially limiting strikers’ access to the docks was later amended, providing the right for 80 to picket at a time. But the sustained presence of hundreds of strikers and supporters camping out on surrounding streets has disrupted all normal flow of work and a sympathy “sick-out” earlier in the week by port truck drivers reinforced the strike.

Meanwhile an activist student group, Left 21, has begun organising a boycott of Li Kai-shing’s mega-supermarket chain Park and Shop, and the president of the International Federation of Transport Workers, the global organisation of transport unions, travelled to Hong Kong for a solidarity event. The AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center is donating $5000.

While support floods in from students, other unionists and citizens, buoying up the strikers, the solid commitment of the dockworkers themselves is driving this piece of history. The workers organised despite differences in craft and employer (at least four major contractors supply staffing to the Kwai Tsing Port), divisions between subcontracted workers and permanent port employees, lack of formal recognition of their union, and no precedent of collective bargaining.

The dockers have no illusions about the concentrated wealth and power of their ultimate boss Li Ka-shing, but they realise that they have in their hands something no one else controls: the ability to withhold their labor.

Repercussions on the mainland

The colonial history of Hong Kong left little in the way of labour rights, and unions are rather weak, operating with limited legal rights to bargain or represent workers. Still, both of Hong Kong’s two major union federations are playing roles in this strike.

The larger, the HKFTU, has ties to mainland China’s official labour federation, the ACFTU, and is considered pro-business and politically conservative. In this strike its lack of legitimacy among workers was further weakened by revelations that one of its leaders holds a management position in Global Stevedoring Service, one of the contractors that employ dockworkers.

HKFTU tried to funnel management’s offer of a 5 per cent wage increase to a subgroup of workers, but was shamed and now seems to have retreated entirely.

The smaller federation, the HKCTU, is considered a pillar in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and has taken the lead in supporting the strike: raising funds, organising logistics, doing PR and outreach, making demands on politicians.

The conflicts between the two Hong Kong labour federations point to implications of this strike for mainland China. Though total reintegration of Hong Kong into China is still 35 years in the future, the two economies are already thoroughly enmeshed. Because of the strike, some portion of Hong Kong ship traffic will almost certainly be re-routed to the southern mainland ports at Shenzhen or Guangzhou, where labour conditions are way below those in Hong Kong.

A strike of crane operators at the Shenzhen port several years ago was met with swift government intervention and rapid agreement to workers’ demands, in an incident believed to show the government’s determination to prevent a spread of worker militancy — not through repression but through accommodation.

Given that there are already tens of thousands of wildcat strikes annually on the mainland, rising on 30 years of wage repression and an absence of union representation, the potential for this spark of Hong Kong labour militancy to jump the straits and ignite a prairie fire on the mainland may be on the minds of China’s leaders.

[Ellen David Friedman is a retired union organiser, on the policy committee of Labor Notes and a visiting scholar at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.]

Comments

Hong Kong Workers strike

To deny workers a pay rise, is immoral and unethical. To deny workers a pay rise for 15 years is criminal and the bosses should be held accountable to the degree possible. The workers should also be able to apply for back pay on at least a cpi scale for the past 15 years.
In Unity

Vin Francis

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