Lines and shippers are making contingency plans in the event the dockworker strike at facilities operated by Hongkong International Terminals is protracted.
Protests for higher pay by members of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers have been staged at HIT’s terminals since March 28, causing vessel and truck delays at the world’s third-biggest container port in terms of volume.
Although a High Court injunction was granted to HIT late Monday forcing strikers to vacate company property, protests continued Tuesday near port entrances.
A spokesperson for HIT told the JOC the dispute is impacting operations and causing vessel delays, although she would not comment on local reports that claimed average berthing delays had climbed to 60 hours.
“A special task force has been formed by HIT to oversee the development of the situation, and contingency procedures have been activated,” she said. “HIT has also been relocating internal resources and manpower to sustain the operation of the terminals over the past few days.”
As the action continues and the number of protestors grows, port stakeholders are making preparations in case the dispute is prolonged.
“We understand that the strike at HIT in Hong Kong has impacted productivity, and if the situation continues, we will consider options and work with our customers to minimize the impact on their shipments,” said Stephen Ng, director of trades at Hong Kong-based line OOCL.
SBS Worldwide has warned its customers that the dispute could worsen, and is offering alternative routings and air freight possibilities for urgent shipments.
Sunny Ho, chief executive of the Hong Kong Shippers’ Council, admitted shippers were concerned the dispute could drag out because unions supporting workers were well funded. “Shippers have options,” he said. “Exporters can use Shenzhen ports if the situation deteriorates.”
Port users contacted by the JOC said operations had only suffered minimal interference so far.
“There has been some delays at the gate, but disruption has not been very significant, and we haven’t had any advisories from lines saying they are skipping calls at the port,” Ho said. “It’s the slack season, so cargo turnover is only about half compared to the peak season, so there is not a lot of pressure at the port.”
Paul Tsui, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics, said that although HIT’s facilities were affected by strikes, other terminals at the port were operating unhindered. Should the situation worsen, he said the most obvious means of diverting cargo to and from Hong Kong would be using feeder vessels via Shenzhen in mainland China.
HIT is encouraging its contractors — third parties that employ the striking dockers that usually man HIT’s terminals — to open talks with employees in a bid to resolve the situation. “We are also looking into the workers’ concerns regard working conditions,” said the spokesperson, who claimed some contractor-workers were returning to work.
Contact Mike King at Michael@borderline.eu.com.