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Hong Kong Port Workers to Hold Talks as Strike Enters 13th Day

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April 9, 2013

Image: Port of Hong Kong

(Bloomberg) — Striking dockworkers at Hongkong International Terminals Ltd., the port operator backed by billionaire Li Ka-shing, will hold talks with their employers tomorrow amid signs that the stoppage may be losing support.

Union negotiators will join the talks, Wong Yu-loy, a representative of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers, said by phone today. Hongkong International Terminals executives will also attend the meetings, Radio Television Hong Kong reported, citing Matthew Cheung, Hong Kong secretary for labor and welfare. The government arranged the meetings, it reported.

The dockworkers, who are employed by contractors instead of Hongkong International Terminals directly, have been on a strike since March 28 to demand an increase of about 25 percent in wages. Shipping lines including Evergreen Marine Corp Taiwan Ltd. and Japan’s Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd. have diverted vessels or skipped calling at Hong Kong, as the strike threatens the city’s reputation as a trade hub for China.

A vessel currently needs to anchor outside of Hong Kong port for two to four days before berthing, compared with no waiting period before the strike, said Paul Tsui, chairman of Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics Ltd., which represents 345 freight forwarders in the city.

About 250 workers remained on the street outside the entrance of the port terminal in Hong Kong’s Kwai Tsing district, the union’s Wong said. Labor discontent has risen as the former British colony’s wealth gap widened the most since records started in 1971.

Wage Demands

Hongkong International Terminals is now running at about 80 percent of usual operating levels as an increasing number of workers are coming back to work, the company said in an e-mailed statement today. Daily loss has narrowed to HK$2.4 million ($309,100) on April 5 from HK$5 million earlier, the company said.

The workers are demanding that hourly wages rise by HK$12.50 from about HK$50, the dockworkers’ union said earlier. Strikers won’t accept an offer of a 5 percent pay increase, RTHK reported on April 3, citing Lee Cheuk-yan, a lawmaker from Hong Kong’s Labor Party.

Hongkong International Terminals is operated by Hutchison Port Holdings Trust, whose largest shareholder is Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. Hutchison Port controls more than half Hong Kong’s port capacity with its partner Cosco Pacific Ltd.

– Jasmine Wang, Copyright 2013 Bloomberg.

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