All On the Same Ocean 同一个海上

Solidarity with Strikers on the Hong Kong Docks 声援香港码头工人罢工


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Striking dockers reject latest offer

May 4, 2013 by
Striking dockers reject latest offer Hundreds of striking dock workers have voted down a 9.8 percent pay rise offered by the contractors which employ them at the container terminal. They are still insisting on a double-figure increase and direct talks with the employers, warning that the strike will continue until a satisfactory resolution is reached. Unionist Wong Yu-loy said the strikers were angry with the contractors for making the offer through the media. He said the employers should return to the negotiating table to discuss the pay offer as well as working conditions, health and safety issues, rest times and meal breaks. However, a spokesman for one of the contractors said it was regrettable that the workers had refused the offer, and repeated that it was final and that there would be no more talks. He also said the company had started recruiting new staff to counter the impact of the industrial action. (RTHK)

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LabourStart campaign: More than 8000 protest to port bosses

LabourStart  www.labourstart.org has been running an online campaign at the request of the Hong Kong Dockworkers Union and the International Transport Workers Federation, getting people to send off protest emails to the port bosses. Currently they’ve generated over 8,200 messages.

Please join in this form of e-campaigning, and spread the link: http://www.labourstartcampaigns.net/show_campaign.cgi?c=1778

LabourStart is a superb source of daily media postings from all over the globe. Check it.


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Dockworkers union respond to Hutchinson-Whampoa’s attacks on union

For the first time since the beginning of the 26-day strike, Li Ka-shing’s manager Fok Kin-ning publicly attacked the strikers and their supporters, including unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk Yan.  Comparing the workers’ strike props to the Cultural Revolution, he said, “This [strike] has been using the style of the Cultural Revolution [where people are vilified on banners and posters].”  In addition, he added that he did not believe the dockers’ working conditions were that bad and that they were “willing to work long hours”. Furthermore, the company has issued a public media campaign aimed at vilifying the workers, presenting them as greedy and unsatisfied, whose demands were “unachievable.” Read more here

Below is the response from the Hong Kong Dockworkers Union to these attacks. They also respond briefly to the announcement by Global Stevedoring to close its operations in Hong Kong, causing the lay offs of some striking workers.   It also includes their call to action to surround the Cheong Kong building, Li Ka Shing’s office building on Friday April 26th.

Thank you to HKCTU for the translation. PDF version: response

***

Li Ka-shing, do you know how bad the conditions of your workers are??

In a staggering publicity stunt last week that included several newspaper ads and public remarks by Hutchison Whampoa’s managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning, Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT) and its subcontractors sought to smear the striking workers and their union. Thus today, we must present the truth and correct their distortions; we must reveal to society the exploitation suffered by the workers as these ruthless capitalists—who clearly have no regard for the basic rights of the labor class—reap their excessive profits.

A raise for the family

Yes, we demand wage increases—but only to compensate for 18 years of exploitation and continuous inflation. The striking workers are mostly divided into crane drivers and stevedores. In 1995, loaders made HK$1,456 for every 24 hours of work; fast-forward to 2013, they now only make HK$1,315 for the same amount of work. (Table below) Given a cumulative inflation rate of 28.5% during the 18 year in between, the workers’ real income fell 29.7%; our demand for a 20% raise can’t even match inflation. As they struggle to survive and support their families, these workers have chosen to fight for the justice and dignity they deserve. In the subcontractors’ statement, they only dared say the workers’ current salary is higher than that in 1997, intentionally evading the 1995 numbers in a numerical ruse to fool the public.

Year Wage (24 hours’ work) Hourly wage Year Wage (24 hours’ work) Hourly wage
1995 $1,456 $60.66 2008 $1,060 $44.16
1996 $1,150 $49.71 2010 $1,115 $46.45
2003 $1,090 $45.41 2011 to now $1,315 $54.79

HIT claims that the dock workers’ income is higher than the median income in Hong Kong (HK$12,000), but they have neglected to mention that the city’s median working hours is 45 per week and the mean hourly rate is around HK$61.50, which is at least 9.75% higher than that of the dock workers. HIT’s true intentions are for all to judge.

As for the crane drivers, the union’s only hope is that workers with the same job can earn the same wage. Why is it that despite having identical jobs, workers hired directly by the company make twice as much as those hired by subcontractors (Table below) and, unlike the latter, are given time to eat, go to the bathroom and rest? Why have all subcontracted workers been stripped of these basic rights?

Crane operators hired by subcontractors Crane operators hired by HIT Comparison
Average hourly rate $60-71 $92-180* 50-150% more
Monthly working hours 312 hours 173 hours

*Including shift premium pay and bonus

Please treat us like human beings!

HIT and the subcontractors have also said that the dock workers take up 24-hour shifts voluntarily—they are either oblivious to the plight of their own frontline workers, or intentionally misrepresenting reality. The truth is, when the subcontractors demand that these loaders work for 36, 48, 72—or even more—hours straight, the workers do not dare refuse in fear of punishment. Even under the typhoon signal no. 8, they must risk their lives climbing to the tip of cargoes nine-story high and fastening them tightly in the absence of any safety measures. In contrast, working under the scorching sun or amid raging rains and thunderstorms is just another day for these workers.

Required to stay in the small operator cabin- for 12 consecutive hours, the subcontracted workers often have to eat and urinate inside the crane—a widely known fact within the industry and one of which Fok is clearly ignorant. In addition, having to lean forward for extended periods of time has led to occupational injuries in the necks and backs of numerous workers, many of whom have had to undergo treatment and surgeries. Backed by true examples, these appalling stories cannot be denied.

The shutdown – just a dodging of responsibility! 

The striking workers were prepared for the shutting of Global Stevedoring Service; unlike more than a decade of one-year contract renewals, this year, the company only renewed the workers’ contract for half a year, which suggests that it had been planning to close down for a while. We suspect that the firm took advantage of the strike’s timing to blame its shutdown on the workers and exit negotiations, leaving their crane drivers jobless.

The union has always emphasized HIT’s inexorable responsibility. We hope to directly negotiate with HIT and resolve this labor dispute.

Where’s the trickle-down? A microcosm of Hong Kong society

Hutchison Whampoa’s profits have continued to rise in recent years. In 1996, the before-tax profits of the corporation’s port-related operations totaled HK$4.6 billion; in 2012, the number reached HK$7.8 billion, surging as much as 70%.

Now let’s turn to Hutchison’s executives. Canning Fok, “the king of all workers”—who, having raised his own salary by almost 20% more than once, currently makes more than HK$100 million a year—is now apparently concerned that the raise demanded by the workers will bring down the economy. Such baseless threats show that Hutchison has entirely disregarded the contributions these workers have made to the local economy. A report by Citibank estimates that Hutchison has lost $100 million from the strike. Why would Hutchison rather suffer losses than face the workers’ reasonable demands? Again, its intentions are clear for all to judge.

Run no more, HIT, and negotiate in good faith!!

The strike has lasted 26 days. Still, the workers battle on. The union and workers all know that this is not just the struggle of several hundred or several thousand dock workers—but the struggle for the dignity of every one of Hong Kong’s workers and citizens. The dock workers have stepped forward to fight for justice and fairer distribution from a corporation that has monopolized the Hong Kong economy for more than a decade, and it is the support of our fellow citizens that keeps us going. Action speaks louder than words—please join us at:

Action to surround Cheung Kong Centre

Date: 26 April 2013 (Friday)

Time: 7:30pm

Venue: Main entrance of Cheung Kong Centre

The Strike Fund: Hang Seng 295-8-067833

Lastly, we implore the world’s richest Chinese, Mr. Li Ka-shing, to show sincerity, realize social corporate responsibility, and bear responsibility for this labor dispute.

Union of Hong Kong Dockers

(Tel) 27708668   (website) http://www.hkctu.org.hk/cms/index.jsp


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Q and A on Hong Kong Dockworkers’ Struggle

Xin Ercong and Chen Jiaming

Translated by L

*Original in Chinese is found on Left 21 website. If you are able/willing to help out with translations, please email us at hkstrikesolidarity@gmail.com

FeedLi

“Feed Li Ka Shing, and not our families”

1. Why did dockworkers struggle with the management?

Since 2003, the company has not increased wages at all. In order to feed their families, many dockworkers have to work consecutively for at least 24 hours. In the busiest of times, they have to work for 72 hours, which seriously affects their occupational health. However, the company not only ignores workers’ health, it refuses to compensate workers for working overtime or working overnight. There have been no wage increase for a decade, but work hours keep growing. This is really “feeding Li Ka-shing but not our families”.

2. The chronology of dockworkers’ struggle:

March 20: The Hong Kong Dockers Union (member of Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions) and dockworkers gathered at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminal to demand wage increase, but the company refused to respond to their demand.

March 23: College students and members of the Left 21 came to the Container Terminal to mobilize workers to join the struggle to strengthen solidarity and workers’ power.

March 25: Dozens of union members staged a protest in front of Hutchison House in Hong Kong Central, urging major shareholders and the outsourcing companies to negotiate with the union on wages.

March 26: Management held a meeting with about 40 contractors and employees, but the union and most of dockworkers were excluded from the meeting. After the meeting, management unilaterally promised a 5% wage increase or an increase of HK$3 to 4 (US$0.30-0.50) per hour which is far less than the HK$12.5O (US$1.61) per hour increase demanded by the dockworkers’ union. The union described the meeting as a farce and did not recognize the results of the meeting. The union and workers also expressed deep anger at the management’s response.

March 27: Some workers reported the presence of many police cars and patrolling by plain cloths police. The relationship between management and the police force was evident for everyone to see. But it also showed the management’s anxiousness toward workers’ struggle. The management also prepared several trucks. What is the management’s plan?

March 28: At 8am, more than 200 workers began an indefinite strike and blocked the entrance to the Terminal 6. Some crane operators joined the strike. The Hong Kong Labour Department started to dispatch people to negotiate an end to the strike.

3. What is the response of the outsourcing companies?

The response of the companies to the wage demand is of course lacking. However,  the use of White Terror tactics is not. The union received complaints from workers at an outsourcing company, saying that they would be immediately punished or even sacked by management if they join the union’s actions. Such White Terror is aimed to terrorise and weaken workers’ strength. [Update 4/18/2013, see here]

4. What is the current demand of the dockworkers and the union?

An increase of HK$12.50 (US$1.61) per hour for all workers

Adjustment of annual salaries

Management must recognise the union as negotiating partner

5. How would the strike affect Hong Kong as a shipping centre? (Hong Kong is currently the world’s third busiest port)

In recent years, we often hear that Shanghai and Singapore have overtaken in terms of some economic indicators and that Hong Kong is being marginalized. With the dockworkers’ strike, some would naturally say that the strike affects the status of Hong Kong as a shipping centre. Some would question that Hong Kong’s container throughput has already fallen to the third in the world behind Singapore and Shanghai, and the workers’ strike undoubtedly is destroying themselves.

However, using world ranking to prove marginalization creates problems. It assumes that every city has to compete with one another to be number one. But in fact, there is no extra reward to the city for ranking at the top. To discuss whether Hong Kong’s shipping industry is really in decline, we shouldn’t use ranking as the criteria. Interesting, our statistics shows that Hong Kong’s shipping industry has been growing.

If we look at the figures in the first graph below (source: Census and Statistics Department), we can see that in the past 12 years the container throughput (in tons) has been growing. Since 2001, Hong Hong’s container throughput only dropped in 2009 due to the financial crisis. It increased from 72460 (‘000) in 2001 to 157880 (‘000) in 2012, a two-fold increase. Therefore, the so-called decline of Hong Kong’s shipping is unfounded. Using “marginalization” and “decline of the shipping industry” to threaten workers is completely wrong!

Graph1