【明報專訊】TODAY (April 4) is the eighth day of the strike at the Kwai Chung Container Terminal. Yesterday, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said he would personally follow up the matter and try to bring about a settlement.
Ever since the strike started, the subcontractors concerned have never laid out their position publicly. There are about 3,400 workers at the terminal, and the 400 or so strikers are in the employ of several different subcontractors. Are these subcontractors to be held responsible for the strike? This is a question that has yet to be answered.
One strange thing about the strike so far is that while the management of the terminal company insist that they have no capacity to negotiate with the workers, they have many times publicly stated their position. On the other hand, while the subcontractors are the workers' direct employers, they have never responded to public enquiries. As a result, things have become very confusing.
If the subcontractors could give the public a clear account of the subcontracts' costs and the workers' wages, the public will be better able to judge the rights and wrongs of this dispute. And since the terminal company claims to be a victim of the strike and is losing about HK$5 million a day, there is no reason why it should not urge the subcontractors to try to settle the strike. According to the company, none but the subcontractors are in a position to negotiate with the workers. However, what have the subcontractors done in the past seven days? Has the terminal company brought any pressure to bear on them so that the strike may be brought to an early end? The public is left uninformed. The mysterious nature of the subcontractors is one of the chief reasons for the escalation of the strike.
The terminal company has taken out a temporary court injunction barring the strikers from gathering at the container terminal. It was thought that such an injunction would be a severe blow to the workers' morale. However, the striking workers have just moved to a place outside the container terminal, where they have set up camp, and the strike continues. The situation is getting more and more complicated. For instance, in response to the workers' appeals, people are contributing to a strike fund. This is the first time in Hong Kong a trade union has been able to raise money from the public for a strike. And when a sizeable portion of society gets involved in the struggle, the result is difficult to predict.
On Monday this week, when applying for a temporary injunction, the lawyer representing the terminal company told the court that "80 container vessels will be making use of the port facilities over the next three days". Today is Thursday, and the strike is still going on, which means that the loading and unloading operations of 80 container vessels are being affected. According to those in the container industry, if the situation gets worse, the market will lose confidence in Hong Kong's shippers, and Hong Kong's business reputation will also suffer. While the supply of daily necessities is at present unaffected, it is difficult to say what will happen if the strike is not settled soon.
The strike at the container terminal is an important issue that involves the interests of the public as well as of Hong Kong as a city. The government should not continue to stand by and do nothing. We hope that, after what Matthew Cheung said yesterday, the government will seriously take up the matter and help resolve the dispute between the workers and their employers as soon as possible.