Interview with Stephen Chan, Hong Kong Dock Worker
My name is Stephen Chan. I live in the New Territories, Hong Kong. I have two children – a boy and a girl. I’ve been working at the docks as a checker for 18 years. In 1995 I got paid 1,456 HKD ($188 USD) for a 24-hour shift. The companies cut our pay during SARS and the Asian economic crisis. At one point we were making as little as 1,060 HKD ($137 USD) for a 24-hour shift. Now I get paid 1,315 HKD ($169 USD) for a 24 hour shift.
We work no matter what. We work when the wind is smashing us, the rain is pounding us, the sun is bearing down on us…we may even work during a typhoon! We are so close to the trucks so that all day we breathe pollution.
We work 24 hour shifts, sometimes these shifts are back to back. When at work we can’t leave, we take our breaks in the dock. Our break area has small cubicles that are about 1.5 to 2 feet wide and have a 5-6 foot chair in them for us to rest on. The break area fits about 100 people. If there’s no space, workers are forced to rest on the floor and in the staircases. The workers who are operating the cranes must take all their meals and rest up in the crane – they don’t come down. They also must go to the bathroom in that area as well. This all means that we do not get real rest while working these long shifts.
In the past we had more workers. It used to be that I worked in a team of 9. Now its cut down to 6. In the past we had 15-16 containers per hour, now we have 25. The company pushes us so much, this situation is really difficult.
There were some Australians who came by here and said that they think we are treated like dirt on the floor. That was their own words, not mine.
I want rest time and to have a little money to prepare for life. Our wives and children and families are behind us because they understand why we walked out. All we want is a contract that returns our wage to what it was in 1995. We aren’t even asking for an increase, just to return our wages to what they were in the past. We want to improve the work environment. I hope that we can have a more equal relationship between the company and the workers in the future.
To donate to the dock worker’s strike fund online, see here