Striking Hong Kong Dockworkers Can't Use Toilet During Negotiations
Imagine your workday was a little different than it is. Imagine spending twelve-hour shifts in a cramped space. You don’t get to leave for breaks to eat or even use the bathroom. You have to urinate out a window, defecate on a newspaper and roll it up so you can take it with you to throw away later. No sink to wash up. If you’re hungry, you’d better have brought a sandwich with you to that human-waste smelling workplace. Imagine.
The dockworkers at the Kwai Tsing dock in Hong Kong don’t have to imagine. That’s a description of the work conditions of their crane operators. That’s why they’re trying to slow the import and export operations at the Kwai Tsing dock.
And those are just some of the reasons dockworkers at the Kwai Tsing dock went on strike on March 28th.
The striking workers’ grievances also include over a decade of dedicated, hard work with barely a rise in pay. They are demanding a 17 to 24 percent pay rise.
On the 11th, talks with the contractors who hire the dockworkers broke down after an offer of only a 7 percent rise (with 2 percent of that being in benefits like buying meals) was offered.
The representatives of Global Stevedoring Service, one of the contractors, walked out on the negotiations while the strikers were on a bathroom break. I guess they’re serious about not allowing their workers the right to use a toilet.
It’s like they’re saying you can’t have a toilet break at work or in negotiations.
That’s a negotiations fail.
But the strikers are serious too. Seeing that their demands are not being taken seriously, the dockworkers who are on strike say they will take further action.
“We will escalate our action if there is no meaningful outcome from the next meeting with the subcontractors,” said Stanley Ho Wai-hong of the Confederation of Trade Unions.
60 of the strikers took their protest directly to the offices of billionaire Li Ka-shing. Li owns Hongkong International Terminals (HIT); it’s the subsidiary of Li’s Hutchison Whampoa conglomerate and operates the Kwai Chung cargo terminal.
HIT doesn’t employ the striking workers directly. In fact, the direct employees of HIT who work on the docks are not on strike.
Still, most feel—and properly so, I would think—that HIT has a responsibility to the dockworkers/employees hired by the subcontracting companies they’ve hired, which employ the dockworkers.
The hope in raising banners and chanting at the Cheung Kong Centre in Central will get Li and HIT’s attention to do something about the situation.
HIT has sent a representative as an observer to the negotiations, but has not stepped in as of yet.
The working conditions of the dockworkers have garnered sympathy globally and gotten unions to step in from other countries.
Try imagining the working conditions described above happening in the United States. Try imagining workers in the U.S. allowing this to go on for years and years. Preposterous, right?
Shoot, at the docks of Los Angeles and Long Beach, we had the Office Clerical Unit (OCU) workers, who are the highest paid clerical workers in the whole country, go on strike last year.
However, the strongest union support from outside of China for the striking workers in Hong Kong is not coming from American unions, but from the British and Australian unions.
But more on the global support Hong Kong dockworkers are receiving in Thursday’s blog…