By Guy Newey, HONG KONG, AFP
Thousands of striking ironworkers and their supporters marched through Hong Kong on Sunday in what they said is now the longest-running industrial dispute in the territory for 30 years.
Around 600 workers marked their 19th day of strikes with a two-kilometer march through the city to protest poor pay and working conditions.
They were backed by students, academics and other trade unionists with almost all the marchers donning red headbands, chanting and singing. The march was headed by a group of workers carrying several long iron girders.
“We are continuing the momentum,” said the general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, Lee Cheuk Yan.
“Thousands of workers have come out to struggle for their work. We are asking for a share of the prosperity that we have helped create in Hong Kong,” he said.
The dispute is between the workers — who shape and lay the metal bars that form the skeletons of buildings in this skyscraper city — and their employers, the contractors’ association, over daily rates.
The association has offered 850 Hong Kong dollars (US$110) per day but the ironworkers are demanding 950 dollars, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.
Lee, who is also a Hong Kong legislator, said the dispute was wider.
“We do not just represent barbenders, but many of the workers in Hong Kong. We are demanding fair laws and a minimum wage for workers,” he said during the rally, which ended at the territory’s government offices.
The workers are also calling on the government to act as mediators in the dispute.
Academics who have supported the protest believe it shows a wider problem in Hong Kong, where many menial workers do not share the benefits of a strong economy.
“The ironworkers’ fight is only a manifestation of exploitation that other workers in Hong Kong are facing,” Ip Iam- chong, a teaching fellow at Lingnan University, told the South China Morning Post.