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 email@example.com
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!