Making the World a Smaller Place

14th Day Hong Kong Strike Cargo Piles

The strike at Hongkong International Terminals enters its 14th day today.

It may not be the longest industrial action in the SAR’s history, but is surely the most protracted one in recent years.

It’s now a stress test for all sides concerned, and it would make little sense to let the standoff drag on to impact the innocent public.

Executive Council member Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung says supplies to factories in the southern mainland are being affected and manufacturers risk missing shipments, facing losses.

Could Lam be overstating the impact? It’s a risk that mustn’t be ignored.

So far, both sides seem to be putting up an inflexible stance. The court injunction obtained by the terminal operator was needed to keep operations as normal as possible so that the impact on innocent third parties could be kept to a minimum.

Yesterday, the Kwai Tsing Terminal was said to have resumed 80 percent of its productivity.

But an injunction was only a stop- gap measure that couldn’t solve the impasse for good. Talks are the only means to bridge the fundamental differences.

The strike ongoing at HIT is more complicated than what appears on the surface – involving politics at various levels. Confederation of Trade Unions chief Lee Cheuk-yan’s dramatic anger over his rival Federation of Trade Unions’ involvement in today’s talks confirmed that political rivalry.

Otherwise, it would be puzzling for the CTU to insist on enjoying the exclusive right to negotiations had there been no political agenda.

It’s a sad fact the strike has been highly politicized. The protest outside an outlet of the supermarket chain owned by HIT’s parent company was irrelevant.

As said, it’s a stress test. The CTU is under pressure to keep donations rolling in to finance job action after having raised HK$4 million so far to pay for the basic necessities of striking workers. It would be a challenge to raise more unless the union has a white knight in the wings.

Nonetheless, Lee’s outburst was understandable because it had largely been the CTU’s show until its rival climbing onto the scene. Tactically, the parallel negotiations with the FTU can create pressure on the CTU to come to terms with its employers.

Above all, industrial disputes should be about pay and working conditions. Therefore, it will be in everybody’s interest to focus on the fundamentals.

The unionists are demanding a 23 percent pay hike, with crane controllers also keen on ending a “Third-World” working environment.

Can all the demands be met? Only the employers can answer this question.

However, before it’s answered, all sides must sit down and talk to each other. As it’s essential to sort out differences through constant communication, it’s encouraging the various stakeholders agreed to meet today.

It would be unrealistic to expect a settlement to be reached in the first round of negotiations. But it is never too late to start the process.

Wednesday, April10, 2013

Mary Ma
Source: Hong Kong