HONG KONG, April 17 (Reuters) – More than 200 striking dock workers camped outside the headquarters of Asia’s richest man on Wednesday, pressing demands for a pay rise at a port operated by the tycoon that has disrupted traffic in the world’s third-largest container port.
Unionists say they have had no pay increase for 10 years. Other demands have included improved hygiene facilities.
Representatives of the 450 strikers said they would remain outside Cheung Kong Centre in the city’s financial district to persuade Li Ka-shing to intervene.
The workers, on strike for three weeks, seek an increase of about 20 percent from contractors who supply workers for port operator Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), a unit of Li’s Hutchison Whampoa.
“We’ll disperse our fellow workers to surround Cheung Kong Centre to force Li Ka-shing to take a stand,” said Stanley Ho, secretary-general of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers.
HIT has left it up to contractors and strikers to negotiate. It said last week it would add five toilets at the terminal yard, after complaints of inadequate facilities.
Australian trade unionists flew in to show their support.
“We think the conditions are appalling and akin to a third-world country,” said Matt Purcell, International Transport Workers’ Federation’s assistant co-ordinator in Australia.
“We think it’s a disgrace that people have to sit in a crane for 12 hours, and they have to go to the toilet in the crane … not to mention the low wages here.”
HIT said on Wednesday it hoped workers would consider a 7 percent pay rise proposed by contractors. The strikers have rejected this offer.
Hong Kong, the gateway to mainland China’s manufacturing heartland, is the world’s third-largest port, after Shanghai and Singapore, but the strike has diverted some traffic to the nearby Chinese port of Shenzhen, where Li also operates berths.
Cheung Bing-leung, Secretary for Transport and Housing, said delays at the terminal could be up to seven or eight days, local media reported. The volume of cargo handled by HIT stood at 86 percent of capacity, the company said on Saturday. (Additional reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Ron Popeski)
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