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Hong Kong dock strike cripples world's third busiest port

By Georgia McCafferty and Esther Pang, CNN
April 4, 2013 -- Updated 0436 GMT (1236 HKT)
Dockers sit in front of a ship at the Kwai Chung container terminal in Hong Kong on March 29.
Dockers sit in front of a ship at the Kwai Chung container terminal in Hong Kong on March 29.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dock workers in Hong Kong are striking for the seventh day, crippling port operations
  • About 500 workers outside the world's third largest port are demanding a 15% pay increase
  • Hong Kong International Terminals is estimating berthing delays of up to 60 hours
  • Strikers attract groundswell of support from pro-democracy parties and students

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Hundreds of dock workers demanding better pay and working conditions entered a seventh day of strikes in Hong Kong Wednesday, crippling the world's third busiest container port and causing widespread shipping delays.

About 500 workers and their supporters gathered outside Hong Kong's Kwai Tsing Container Terminal, where workers demanded a 15% pay increase and a collective bargaining relationship with the container terminal operator, Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT), according to the strike organizer, Chan Chiu-wai of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.

HIT employs the workers through a number of contractors. Company officials said that the port was losing about $640,000 a day and the strike is causing berthing delays of up to 60 hours, according to the South China Morning Post.

HIT is a subsidiary of Hutchison Port Holdings Trust, which is owned by billionaire Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. HIT did not respond to CNN's questions Wednesday.

Chan said that dock workers were presently paid $167 per day for 24 consecutive hours of work, less that than they received in 1997.

"We have been asking to talk with them for a very long time but both the terminal and the contractors have refused to talk to us," said Chan. "This is an indefinite strike, we have no time limit and we will strike until our demands are fulfilled."

Chan said staff often work shifts of up to 72 consecutive hours during high-season. "For this work, the salary is very low, the working conditions are very poor and the hours are very long, so we are often in the position of being understaffed and the workers have to work many hours overtime," Chan added.

HIT dismissed claims that workers were being paid less now than they were in 1997.

"It's also wrong that their pay is now lower than in 1997 or during SARS," HIT general manager Gerry Yim Lui-fai told the South China Morning Post.

The workers have attracted many supporters among student unions and pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Federation of Students have organized donation and supply collection points outside major train stations.

Hong Kong's pro-democracy Labour Party is also supporting the strike.

"We have raised HK$1.2 million ($154,000) so far to support the workers and we are paying them (HK)$1,000 a day during the strike," said Lee Cheuk-yan, Labour Party chairman. "We have also just gained the support of the International Trade Union Confederation and it's a very encouraging development. We are confident the strike will not be easily displaced."

More than 100 dock workers, including crane operators and stevedores, went on strike inside the Kwai Tsing Container terminal on March 28, demanding a $1.60 per hour raise. More workers have since joined the action, but they were forced to set up camp outside the port after a Hong Kong court granted HIT a temporary court injunction on April 1 banning unionists and their supporters from entering any of the four Kwai Tsing container terminals.

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