【明報專訊】THE CONTAINER TERMINAL STRIKE has lasted more than a month. At first, the workers and employers failed even to make it clear who the employers and contractors were and by whom the workers were paid. It was only later that trade unions, workers, contractors, and port operator Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT) came to the negotiating table in their different capacities. Regrettably, they failed to come to an agreement, and the industrial action took an undesirable turn when the workers on strike moved from the Kwai Chung Container Terminal to Central, switching their focus from the improvement of employment conditions to an attack on Li Ka-shing and his son. What the workers and employers should do is to re-focus on the demand for a reasonable pay increase and better working conditions.
While workers are the key players in the strike, they are differently employed and work for different contractors. And while those whose work requires greater skill cannot easily be replaced and are in a better bargaining position, those whose work requires less skill are in danger of being replaced. These are realistic considerations that cannot be ignored.
The employers also cannot afford to ignore some very realistic considerations, including their public image and their competitiveness within the industry. The strike to date has generated much public discussion, and the workers’ perseverance and the social agitation caused have not only affected the business reputation of the port operator as well as its parent company, but also dealt a blow to HIT’s business. The continuation of the strike, therefore, will do no good to the workers, the contractors, the port operator, and Hong Kong as a whole.
The demand of the workers for a pay rise of 23 percent may be seen as exorbitant and makes it difficult for them to win the general support of society. In addition, it is strange that the union leaders have all the time insisted that the semi-skilled and skilled workers should act in unison in negotiating with the contractors. For the longer the strike goes on, the more disadvantageously placed the semi-skilled workers are. The contractor Everbest, for instance, which has about 250 of its semi-skilled workers on strike, has declared that it has taken on 50 new workers. As Everbest has clearly signified its willingness to resume negotiations, the semi-skilled workers’ problems may be solved more easily if the union leaders agree to address separately the problems of the skilled and semi-skilled workers.
The employers must also be genuinely prepared to negotiate. While the contractors are the workers’ direct employers, HIT can hardly stay on the sidelines all the time. If HIT will play a more active part in the negotiations to come, the dialogue between the contractors and workers is likely to be more fruitful.
Yesterday, union leader Lee Cheuk-yan declared that a double-digit pay increase would be acceptable. The contractors, meanwhile, said an increase would be unaffordable only if it was to be more than 10 percent. So the two sides are coming somewhat closer to agreement. If the contractors can also offer some concrete promise of better working conditions, the government should be able to bring the two sides together so that they may make certain concessions without losing face, thus bringing the strike to an end.
It is often less costly to resolve labour disputes by negotiation than confrontation. The right thing for the workers and employers to do now is to leave emotions behind and, in compliance with reason, return to the negotiating table.
明報社評 2013.04.29﹕為工友為碼頭實事求是 聚焦合理加幅人性管理
bargain﹕discuss prices, conditions, etc with somebody in order to reach an agreement that is acceptable
agitation﹕public argument or action for social or political change
in unison﹕if two groups, governments etc do something in unison, they do it together because they agree with each other