Dock workers' strike has come to an end. For this incident, workers, employers, the labour department and even whole society have all paid a price. If they stop short of learning a good lesson from the incident but feel satisfied with the current calm on the surface, then it is afraid that Kwai Chung container terminal would still be at the centre of storm in future, and social harmony and economic development in Hong Kong would inevitably be affected.
Undeniably, the dock workers' strike is the largest labour-capital dispute in Hong Kong in recent years. The strike eventually came to an offer of 9.8% pay raise. If the striking workers could not claim a complete victory, they could at least boast to have won a "half victory". Because of this, some people have asserted that this was a result of workers' unity and the "strong" leadership of the Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU), such as, in besieging the Cheugn Kong Centre and "denouncing" Li Ka-shing and his son. And without this the capital side would not have been forced to make a compromise and concession.
Such assertion is a fallacy of composition, which is actually specious and groundless.
As a matter of fact, the eventual solution of the incident with 9.8% pay raise is neither an "achievement" by CTU's Lee Cheuk-yan nor a result of "occupy Cheung Kong Centre" and "Down with Li (Ka-shing)". On the contrary, without CTU placing obstacles in the way to hijack the strike, the incident shouldn't have lasted for 40 days.
Now, the incident was solved with a 9.8% wage increase. Such pay raise in fact is no big difference from the earlier proposal by the outsourced contractors for a 5% basic wage increase plus 2% increase in welfare for this year and another 5% basic wage increase for next year. The 9.8% pay raise is just for this year and there is no mention about any pay increment for next year.
On that evening when the 9.8% pay-raise proposal was announced, nearly half of the striking workers had already said they would accept the offer and hoped to go back to work. But Lee Cheuk-yan and his ilk still tried, by hook or by crook, to obstruct. They hadn't given up until the die was cast as more and more striking workers expressed their wish to go back to work.
Therefore, facts are before our eyes. The incident was eventually solved because of the general social atmosphere and trend - striking workers' down-to-earth approach, employers' consideration for the overall situation and the labour department's effective mediation, plus public opinion showing people did not want to see the strike last forever and industrial insiders' explanation what damages the strike had caused to both employees and employers in the container shipping industry. It was by no means a result of "handing on to the last minute".
In fact, CTU absolutely did not hope the striking workers to accept the 9.8% pay increment offer and was absolutely unwilling to see an early end of "occupy Cheung Kong Centre". According to Lee-Cheuk-yan's calculation, the longer the strike lasted the better – it would be the best that striking workers would sit in front of Cheung Kong Centre until June 4, July 1 and when the "Occupy Central" movement begins. By then he as a self-claimed "leader of labour movement" would have ample "capital" in his hands. The attempt was to put the striking workers under the influence of Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China headed by Lee Cheuk-yan, to involve them in the campaign for "reversal of the verdict on June 4" and to further engage them in the "Occupy Central" movement. Had not striking workers woken up in time to make a timely turn and refuse to continue dancing to Lee Cheuk-yan's tune, they would have been at any moment dragged into the anti-China and trouble-making political whirlpool. Then they would have come to a miserable end – not only that they might have lost jobs but they personally and they families might also suffered mentally and emotionally under pressures.
Employees and employers are in the same boat. During the 40 days of dock workers' strike, some shippers have shifted their containers to neighbouring Yantian, Shekou and Chiwan ports in Shenzhen. Shenzhen port authority yesterday declined to disclose its throughput in April, but acknowledged that in the first quarter of this year, container throughput in Shenzhen totaled 5.29 million TEUs (TEU stands for twenty-foot equivalent unit - a measure used for capacity in container transportation), which was up 3.64% from a year ago and close to Hong Kong's figure. With increase on one side and decrease on the other in April, there seems no suspense that Shenzhen's container throughput would overtake Hong Kong for the first time.
Zhang Dejing, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, earlier pointed out that Hong Kong's competitive edge was weakening due to too much antagonism in society. Dock workers' strike provides the most ready "textbook" to give both labour and capital sides as well as all Hong Kong people a profound lesson. 08 May 2013