Workers Continue Protests at Li’s Hong Kong Port Operator

Bloomberg News

Workers at Hongkong International Terminals Ltd., backed by billionaire Li Ka-shing’s port operator, continued a six-day strike for higher wages after a court ruling barred them from entering terminals in the city.

The company has lost about HK$5 million ($644,000) a day as talks between workers and contractors remain stalled, Gerry Yim, managing director of Hongkong International Terminals, part of Hutchison Port Holdings Trust (HPHT), told reporters today. It may also face claims from shippers, Yim said.

The time needed for berthing a vessel has lengthened to 60 hours from three hours because of the strike, Hongkong International Terminals said. Dockers started a sit-in on March 28, demanding a 20 percent pay increase as rising living costs and record home prices spur discontent in Hong Kong. Protesters were forced to leave the facility yesterday after the city’s High Court granted a temporary injunction barring them.

“We are not going to leave until we can talk to Hongkong International Terminals,” said Ho Wai-hong, a representative of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers. “We will keep fighting.”

No ships are being diverted to other ports, Hongkong International Terminals said in a statement today. Hutchison Port Holdings rose 1.8 percent to close at 86 Singapore cents. The stock has risen 9 percent this year.

About 250 protesters, including workers, students and labor activists, remained on the street outside the entrance of the port in the Kwai Tsing district, Ho said. The port operator said it must take action to resume normal operations as about 80 vessels will probably call in the next 72 hours, according to an e-mailed statement yesterday.

Pay Dispute

Labor discontent in Hong Kong has risen as its wealth gap widens to the biggest since records started in 1971. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. (293) in December agreed on a deal with the flight attendants union, averting labor disruptions threatened after disagreements on wage increases and working conditions.

Dock workers, who include crane operators and stevedores, say they are getting paid less than in 1997, union spokesman Ho said.

The union, which represents about 500 people working at the berths of Hongkong International Terminals, has raised about HK$650,000 since March 29 from supporters, Ho said.

About 3,000 people including truck drivers, dock workers and clerks work at Hongkong International Terminals, according to the union.

Hourly Wages

The dock workers are demanding that hourly wages rise by HK$12.50, the union said last week. In the review with the contractors coming up on July 1, Hongkong International Terminals will ask that workers get about a 5 percent pay increase, Yim said. The laborers received pay increases of as much as 20 percent in 2011, Hongkong International Terminals said in an e-mailed response to questions.

The court injunction was granted after lawyers from Hongkong International Terminals said the size of the demonstration posed safety risks, Radio Television Hong Kong reported yesterday, citing the ruling.

Hongkong International Terminals operates 12 berths at four terminals in the Chinese city and two through a venture with partner Cosco Pacific Ltd. (1199) Hong Kong has nine terminals.

Hong Kong’s consumer prices rose 4.4 percent in February from a year earlier, exceeding the 4 percent median estimate of 12 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

MIQ Logistics Comment

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