Yesterday was the May 1 Labour Day holiday. The dock workers from Kwai Chung container terminal who had been on strike for over a month staged a protest march in Admiralty and Central. But public attention to their activity seemed to have been noticeably drifting off. Citizens began to feel disgusted and fed up to the back teeth with striking workers' long-time occupation of the pedestrian walk in front of Cheung Kong Centre and blockade of Garden Road.
On the other hand, Executive Director of the HongKong Shippers' Council Sunny Ho Lap Kee yesterday said the strike had not only made the terminal operator suffer losses but also hurt the reputation of Hong Kong's shipping industry as a whole. As such, Hong Kong would suffer much bigger losses in future.
Such concern is worthy of attention. Hong Kong's container shipping industry is facing intensive competition from neighbouring ports. The best “selling point” of Hong Kong's shipping industry lies not in cheap charges but in service quality and efficiency. Hence many consignees are willing to pay a little bit more fees to have their cargoes handled in Hong Kong. But the ongoing strike has lasted for more than a month. As a result, cargo handling begins to slow down and containers begin to pile up. Shippers will suffer losses when shipment or delivery of their cargoes is delayed and the quality of their cargoes deteriorates. Even if they and ship companies have bought insurances, their losses may not be covered.
Therefore, for the shipping industry, natural disasters such as a typhoon or heavy storm are not scary. What is fearsome is a dock worker strike, which causes a backlog of cargo. As a proverb has it that “A burnt child dreads the fire”, having experienced the suffering caused by a dock worker strike, shippers will change shipping routes and shift to other ports. There are precedents in Europe and the United States - many originally well operated ports there in the end have to close down due to shrinking business caused by dock worker strikes .
Right now, the operation of Kwai Chung container terminal remains largely normal because workers with other outsourced contractors have not joined the strike. Nevertheless, “good news stays indoors while bad news has wings”. Once the message spreads widely that that striking dock workers in Hong Kong are very aggressive under strong influence of trade unions, the damage on Hong Kong's shipping industry can hardly be repaired in a short period of time.
As a matter of fact, Federation of Trade Unions' (FTC) Lee Cheuk-yan instigated the on-going dock workers strike exactly with an ultimate goal to damage Hong Kong's shipping industry and jeopardise Hong Kong's status as an international shipping and logistic hub. They demand a 22% pay raise to deliberately cause a negotiation impasse between capital and labour, to incite striking workers to besiege the Cheung Kong Centre in Central and even to make harassment at Li Ka-shing's house. Their purpose is to escalate the incident so as to damage the otherwise safe and harmonious business environment in Hong Kong. When photos of uglified big headshots of Li Ka-shing and his son displayed outside Cheung Kong Centre are published on foreign news publications, the first impression foreign investors get would be that this is a scene like in the “Cultural Revolution”.
Consequently, the development of the strike up to date has increasingly clearly exposed the evil intention of FTC's Lee Cheuk-yan and his ilk. They are not for the interests of workers. On the contrary, the very interests of vast dock workers and tens of thousands of other workers in related sectors on the industrial chain are being nibbled and hurt. Once the reputation of Hong Kong container port worsens and business shrinks, shippers and ship companies will shift to other ports, and then a large number of workers will lose their jobs, not to mention having any wage increase. Moreover, other related upstream and downstream industries including manufacturing, export and import, ship companies, ports and even banking and insurance will be affected in a chain reaction, and so the livelihood of workers in these industries.
Therefore, it is time for the 300-plus dock workers still on strike to wake up. FTU's Lee Cheuk-yan is not a “leader of labour movement, but by all means a politician who – as Group Managing Director of Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH) John E. Meredith put it in a published article – just takes advantage of the dock workers strike to grab political capital. The teeth are cold if the lips are lost and the whole chain breaks if a link is broken. Pointing a finger at senior executives of the port operator or Li Ka-shing and his son is no help to solve the problem, but only increases Lee Cheuk-yan's political capital for his anti-China and trouble-making activities. Not all Hong Kong citizens may agree with Li Ka-shing and his son, but they must all firmly oppose any attempt to damage Hong Kong's business environment by occupying Central today and attacking bosses tomorrow. 02 May 2013