Crane operators call off strike at major China port

Newspaper reports say workers win pay raise, receive clearance to organize a trade union

Several hundred workers at a major southern Chinese port have ended a strike after securing a pay raise and receiving clearance to organize a union, news reports and an employee at the port operator said yesterday.
Crane operators at the Yantian International Container Terminals, or YICT, near the southern boomtown Shenzhen stopped working from Friday evening to the early hours of Sunday, a man who answered the phone at the port's offices said.
The employee said the strike was resolved but added that he did not have information on what the workers demanded and what concessions management made.
"We reached an agreement," he said. He declined to give his name because he is not an authorized spokesman.
The employee said he did not know how many workers went on strike and that the port was still assessing how badly the strike affected its operations.
YICT moved more than 7.6 million of the entire Shenzhen port's total throughput of 16.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units of containers in 2005, which made the southern Chinese city the world's No. 4 port that year, according to YICT's Web site.
Hong Kong's Wen Wei Po newspaper said more than 300 workers went on strike.
Citing anonymous sources, it reported that management agreed to raise wages by 3 percent. It wasn't immediately clear how much the workers currently make.
The national average annual urban wage was 11,759 Chinese yuan (US$1,522) in 2006, or 980 yuan (US$127) a month, according to government statistics, although wages at a major port are likely much higher.
The South China Morning Post reported that the workers had also won the right to organize a union.
The employee at the port operator said the workers don't need management approval to set up a union and that it doesn't oppose such a move.
The Post quoted an unnamed worker at the Yantian port as questioning whether the union would protect workers.
"The general trade union of Shenzhen and the management will set up the union, not the workers themselves. We don't even have the right to elect the union head," the worker was quoted as saying.
China does not allow workers to organize independently, requiring all such activities to take place under the oversight of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the national umbrella group for government-approved unions.
Labor activists are frequently jailed and harassed.
Shenzhen's government characterized the incident as a labor dispute but didn't give details in a statement on its Web site.
The statement said city labor and union officials helped resolve the dispute.
The publicity department of the Shenzhen government declined further comment.
The Post reported an earlier strike in Yantian, with container-packing workers walking out on March 24 to demand higher salaries.
The YICT employee confirmed the date of that strike and said it involved one of its contractors. He said the strike was resolved but that he didn't know what the workers demanded and what concessions the contractor made.
YICT is a joint venture between the Hutchison Port Holdings Group and Shenzhen Yantian Port Group. Hutchison Port Holdings is a subsidiary of the Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., controlled by tycoon Li Ka-shing, the world's ninth richest person, according to Forbes magazine.