Hong Kong strike over

by Array

HONG KONG, China—Hong Kong dockworkers have accepted a 9.8 percent pay increase, ending a 40-day strike that slowed traffic at one of the world’s busiest ports.

The workers settled their dispute late Monday by agreeing to the pay offer from four middleman contractors that provide staff to a container terminal operator controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing.

The strike was the longest in years in the former British colony, now a semi-autonomous Chinese city that retains a reputation as a stronghold of laissez-faire capitalism. It raised questions about the competitiveness of the city’s port amid intensifying competition from regional rivals.

About 450 workers went on strike March 28. They originally demanded a raise of up to 23 percent to make up for pay cuts in previous years. They later said they would settle for a double-digit percentage increase.

Lawmaker and union leader Lee Cheuk-yan said the offer was a face-saving compromise but members are happy because the increase is for all workers, not just those who went on strike. The offer also includes improvements to working conditions, he added.

The striking dock workers had complained about health and safety problems such as a lack of bathroom breaks and long shifts. They expressed their anger by camping out in front of a skyscraper in Hong Kong’s financial district owned by Li.

Li’s port operator business, Hutchison Port Holdings, said it can now “focus on restoring the port to its full operational capabilities.”

The strike delayed cargo being moved on and off ships at the terminal, resulting in a backlog of 80,000-90,000 containers at the port during the strike, according to the Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics.

Hutchison said last month that it was operating at 80-90 percent of capacity and that 100 ships had reportedly skipped the port because of delays. Some shipping companies chose to bypass Hong Kong in favour of nearby Shenzhen in mainland China or other ports in Asia.

Other vessels berthed at terminals in Hong Kong not controlled by Hutchison. The company operates 12 berths at four of Hong Kong’s nine container terminals and two others with a joint venture partner.

Hong Kong is a major transshipment hub for goods moving in and out of mainland China. It was the world’s busiest port for years, handling shipments of jeans, shoes and toys manufactured in southern China’s Pearl River Delta for export to consumers in the West. But it has been overtaken by Shanghai and Shenzhen in recent years.