Contracted dockworkers at Hong Kong’s Kwai Chung container terminal complex have been told they will receive a 12 percent pay increase, but after last year’s successful 40-day strike, the threat of industrial action is never far from the table.
Union of Hong Kong Dockers secretary-general Stanley Ho told the South China Morning Post that the union would discuss the offer with members, but if they did not accept the pay rise “we can’t rule out the possibility of action.”
A spokesman for HIT declined to speculate on the pay offer of 12 percent, but said the increase would be no lower than inflation, which rose 4.3 percent last year. Any job action would potentially affect all of the Kwai Chung terminals.
On March 28, 2013, contracted dockworkers at Hutchison-owned Hongkong International Terminals walked off the job to begin the longest strike in Hong Kong history. It dragged on for over a month, with the dockers demanding a 20 percent pay increase, ending when they settled for a 9.8 percent pay rise. The disruption to HIT operations wreaked havoc on shipping schedules and limited the terminal’s handling ability. Port Development Council figures for April last year revealed that container throughput at HIT fell by 10.7 percent.
With Shenzhen and Guangzhou siphoning off a greater share of containerized cargo from South China, and Hong Kong rapidly becoming a transshipment port, the container terminals know they cannot afford efficiency-sapping disruptions.
Hong Kong slipped down to fourth among the world’s busiest container ports last year as Shenzhen moved up. In 2013, Hong Kong traffic fell 3.3 percent, the largest decline among the world’s Top 20 ports, to 22.35 million 20-foot containers, while neighboring Shenzhen handled 23.28 million boxes, up 1.5 percent. Considering that 70 percent of Hong Kong’s throughput comes from transshipment cargo, which is counted twice, the falling numbers reflect the steadily declining relevance of the port, notwithstanding recent terminal investments.
Cosco and China Shipping last month acquired 40 percent and 20 percent stakes respectively in Asia Container Terminals from Hong Kong-based Hutchison Port Holdings Trust for $318 million, in what analysts believe was a move by the Li Ka-shing-controlled organization to monetize mature assets.