Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A Lose-Lose Outcome

The 40-day dockers strike has ended with the workers accepting a 9.8 percent pay rise, far short of the 20 percent they had demanded.

Many did not think they would not be working for 40 days, the longest strike since the handover.

"I never thought it would last this long," a docker said. "I thought it would end after a few days. I thought about giving up. But I did not, because of the support from the public."

Meanwhile port operator Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) suffered a hit in business, saying about 100 vessels avoided its terminals during the strike.

However it is hard to say its exact financial losses, as some logistics experts believe this was only 1 percent of its business; also on March 28 the start of the strike, HIT claimed to lose HK$5 million a day, but then a week later the figure fell to HK$2.4 million.

We just passed by Cheung Kong Centre tonight and many of the tents are still there.

In the end there were no winners in the strike, but there was greater public awareness of the issue which helped the dockers win more sympathy.

One striker surnamed Lee recalled one supporter, an elderly man who pulled a trolley with two boxes of Spam luncheon meat to the initial strike base at the terminals. "He came by three times," Lee said. "I know he is not a rich man. He lives on social welfare. Every time he came, he just told us that we had his full support and left."

The experience brought the dockers closer together, an informal union of sorts.

One docker said his family pressured him to get back to work and let the rest of the workers fight for higher wages.

"I thought about quitting. But that would have let my 'brothers' down," he said. "All these years working at the terminal, I have slept with my brothers more than with my wife. We always have to sleep at the terminal between shifts. My brothers and my wife are equally important."

Most impressive is that the strike fund received HK$8.54 million from the public. Some HK$2.3 million is left and will be distributed among the workers, and so combined with all the subsidies, the dockers will receive about HK$18,840 each, not bad considering they usually make on average HK$20,000 a month.

Another sore loser is Li Ka-shing, whose name and reputation was dragged through the mud, while the strike exposed the ineptness of the government as it stood by and hardly did anything to help move the mediation process along. Does the Leung administration not realize it is in the best interests of the city to resolve the strike as soon as possible?

The work stoppage also revealed how the workers did not have the right to collective bargaining and so they were left with no choice except to go public with their grievances and camp out at Li's headquarters. It also showed how the practice of contracting out work left workers helpless in trying to fight for their rights.

What will Hong Kong learn from this strike? Or will people expect things to go back to what it was before?

We hope corporations realize they cannot take their employees for granted and exploit them. We are not in the 19th century during the industrial revolution -- we are asking for fair wages and respect.

Is it so hard to give us what we deserve?

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