Hong Kong Dockworkers Refuse to Back Down in Port Strike

HONG KONG (AP) — Striking Hong Kong dockworkers refused to back down Wednesday in a weeklong pay dispute that is slowing cargo shipments at the world’s third busiest port.

Several hundred dockworkers and supporters camped out on the road in front of a container terminal. The workers are demanding a 20 percent pay raise to make up for pay cuts in past years but subcontractors supplying labor to port operators are only offering 5 percent.

Hong Kong is the world’s third busiest port by container volume, behind the mainland Chinese cities of Shanghai and Shenzhen, according to World Shipping Council data.

“There are some disruptions, particularly for the importers,” which are seeing some shipments of perishable goods like fruit rot because they’re sitting on the dock longer, said Willy Lin, chairman of the Hong Kong Shippers’ Council. “On the export side it’s slower to get the containers out of the terminals.”

The Shippers’ Council, which represents importers, exporters and manufacturers, has advised its members to arrange backup plans in case the strike drags on, including having shipments move through other ports in China, such as nearby Shenzhen.

Some shipping companies are already taking precautions. Japan’s Mitsui OSK Lines reported several delays and diverted two ships away from Hong Kong because of the strike. The company said a Europe-bound ship would skip the city and instead stop in Vietnam, where Hong Kong cargo would be transferred to another ship to get to its final destination.

Hong Kong is a major transfer point for goods coming in and out of mainland China. It was the world’s busiest port for years, handling shipments of jeans, shoes and electronics manufactured in southern China’s Pearl River Delta for export to consumers in the West. But it has been overtaken by Shanghai and Shenzhen in recent years.

Lin said Hong Kong’s port still holds an edge over its rivals in mainland China because it’s faster and more efficient. Hong Kong can turn around a container in 18-22 hours while Shenzhen needs 24, he said.

Lin said other regional rivals around Asia such as Singapore, Busan in South Korea and Kaohsiung in Taiwan “all want a slice of this pie” and the dispute will hurt Hong Kong’s image as a dependable port if it drags on.

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