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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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

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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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HIT steps up to break up the strike

From HKCTU-IHLO – 20 April 2013 

HIT shows no sign of conceding to the strike. HIT uses the close down of Global, announced on 18 April, to step up the pressure on the strikers. The moves of HIT in the last two days are prepared to demoralize the strike and turn the public sympathy around. 

Global stevedoring, whose service contract with HIT is due on 30 June 2013 announced in high-profile close down on 18 April putting the blame on the strike and the union. The close down of Global is used to strengthen the bargaining position of HIT and the other contractors by misleading the public to believe that the salary demands for 24% of UHKD is un-acceptable in the market. The close down statement of Global was aimed to turn the public opinion around and isolate UHKD, HKCTU and the striker.

On the other hand, HIT has negotiated a deal with the HIT Union agreeing to give OT compensation of 1.4times the hourly rate, close to what the HIT union demands. The HIT labour-management meeting announced late last night an end to the work-to-rule effective from 12am of 20 April. The HIT union accepted the deal which was not put under a CBA and called its members to resume normal work.

This is followed by the HIT which put up a public statement in the local newspaper today to further undermine the strike. The statement criticizes the strikers’ demand for 20% increase in wages is “impossible to achieve”, “beyond the capacity of any company in the industry to satisfy” and will “collapse more companies leading to disastrous results”. The statement repeats that the striking workers are not the employees of the company. The company is only a party using the service of the contractors and is not obliged to negotiate wages with the workers. Besides wages, issue of long working hours should be negotiated between the contractors and the workers. HIT calls both parties to make concessions, particularly the workers to consider the “5%+2” proposal that Everbest proposed and return to negotiation with the contractor.

The other contracting companies also move in to divide the strikers by calling them up and inviting them, including the employees of Global, to join their companies.

 

The “5%+2” wage proposal held by the contractors, is believably the bottom line of HIT. This was the line kept by the contractors before the strike broke out and by now no major concession on the basic wage has been made except for giving meal allowances.

 

The striking workers are still very united and refuse to leave the picket line. The public assembly called by UHKD last night in front of Cheung Kong Centre was attended by about 2000 people under heavy rain. UHKD and HKCTU are demanding HIT and at least two contractors to come back for negotiation of a standard wage for the works UHKD represents.


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Global Stevedoring announces closure of business

From HKCTU-IHLO – 18 April 2013

Global released a public statement announcing closure of business in the evening. Global claims that the company has been meeting the union but failed to reach an agreement. The company is unable to meet the salary requests of the union and it does not serve the interests of any party to drag on the negotiation.

 Global puts the responsibility on the union:

UHKD and HKCTU staged the strike leading to the participation of more than 70% of its employees. Taking into account other negative factors, Global does not have the capacity to re-structure and continue the operation. The company decides to close down its sub-contracting business with HIT when the service contract with HIT ends.”

The company will lay off all the employees according to the labour laws.

 UHKD is prepared for the expiration of the service contract of Global. UHKD calls Hutchison to step in immediately. Global is still obliged to resolve the dispute before 30 June. UHKD and HKCTU calls for an assembly at Cheung Kong Centre tomorrow night.

The strikers are employed by three contractors including 130 out of 170 crane operators under Global, another 200 from Everbest and more than 30 of them from Pui Kee. Global is closely related to HIT and was formed by its retired management.


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Some striking workers lose jobs

From Bloomberg news:

Li Ka-Shing’s Striking Port Workers Lose Jobs as Protest Widens

By Jasmine Wang – Apr 18, 2013

Some port workers at Li Ka-shing’s Hong Kong terminals were told they will lose their jobs, as a three-week strike over wage demands at the world’s third-biggest container port escalates.

Global Stevedoring Service Co., one of the contractors which employs the workers, said yesterday it’s unable to meet the wage demands or continue operations because three quarters of its staff are on strike.

“This is one of the worst scenarios we had expected when the strike was started,” said Cheung Chi-ming, 52, a stevedore who works for another contractor. “I’ll have to continue fighting as we have no way out.”

Dozens of the workers have pitched tents surrounding Li’s 70-story Cheung Kong Center in the business district after a protest march on April 17 as government mediators struggled to narrow the differences. The strike, which prompted shipping lines to divert vessels to Shenzhen,China, from the city’s harbor, is the biggest revolt against the 84-year-old Li, who is Asia’s richest man and is nicknamed “superman” by the local media for his investing prowess.

Contract workers of Li’s Hongkong International Terminals Ltd. were offered a 7 percent raise by their employers, the company said in an e-mail on April 17, compared with the demand for a 23 percent increase.

Rising Costs

About 450 workers, mostly crane operators and stevedores, walked out on March 28, seeking higher wages and better working conditions as rising living costs and record home prices spur discontent in the former British colony.

Hongkong International Terminals is operated by Hutchison Port Holdings Trust (HPHT), whose largest shareholder is Li’s Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. Hutchison Port, along with partner Cosco Pacific Ltd., dominates half of the capacity at Hong Kong, the world’s third-largest container port behind Shanghai and Singapore.

Global Stevedoring Service, which employs fewer than 200 workers, will shutter after its contract with Hongkong International Terminals ends on June 30, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

“We have been willing to talk to the workers since the outbreak of the strike, but we couldn’t reach an agreement with the workers during several meetings,” Global Stevedoring said. “We have clearly expressed that we can’t satisfy the union’s demand.”

Widening Protests

Hundreds of port workers surrounded Cheung Kong Center on April 17, holding placards demanding better pay and shouting slogans against Li. Police and security guards are patrolling the area.

The strike in Hong Kong prompted shipping lines including Evergreen Marine Corp Taiwan Ltd. (2603) to divert vessels to Shenzhen. Terminals controlled by Hutchison Port have a 46 percent market share in that port.

Chan Tsz-kit, who has worked as a stevedore for 22 years for one of the port contractors, said he decided to join the strike because his wages don’t meet his expenses.

“The companies have forced us into a hopeless situation,” said 40-year-old Chan, who moved house to neighboring Shenzhen because he can’t afford Hong Kong rents. “Our pay can never catch up with inflation. Everything is so expensive now.”

The dockworkers at Hong Kong port earn HK$55 ($7) an hour, according to Union of Hong Kong Dockers. That is less than they were paid in 1995, according the union. The workers had a pay cut in 2003 during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak.

Work to Rule

In support of the dockworkers, about 300 crane operators, hired by Hongkong International, began a work-to-rule action on April 4, according to Sin Hiu-yan, a spokeswoman of Hongkong International Terminal Group Employees General Union.

The daily financial loss caused by the strike narrowed to HK$2.4 million on April 5 from HK$5 million earlier as an “increasing number” of workers returned to the port after the strike began, according to Hongkong International.

Hongkong International will make arrangements to minimize the impact on its operations of Global Stevedoring’s expected closing, and will help the workers, it said yesterday.

Shares of Hutchison Port closed unchanged at 82 cents in Singapore trading.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jasmine Wang in Hong Kong at jwang513@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anand Krishnamoorthy at anandk@bloomberg.net