Hong Kong Christians back striking iron workers

By Ecumenical News International
September 4, 2007

A Christian group in Hong Kong has appealed for churches to show solidarity with hundreds of ironworkers who have been on strike for more than three weeks in what is reported to be the territory's longest-running industrial dispute for 30 years - writes Francis Wong.

"In view of the difficulties faced by the ironworkers, we Christians should have a deeper reflection on the meaning of the gospel to them," Rose Wu, director of the Hong Kong Christian Institute, said at a prayer meeting held to coincide with a 26 August protest demonstration at which several thousand people marched in support of the striking workers.

The dispute, about daily rates and working hours, is between 700 ironworkers, who lay the metal bars that form the skeletons of Hong Kong's many skyscrapers, and the contractors' association.

Wu said only a handful of rich people appeared to be reaping the benefits of the economic growth in China's Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong.

The ironworkers have complained that their monthly income has dropped from HK$13000 (US$1666) in 1997 to HK$8000 (US$1025) now. Working hours have increased during the same period from 8 to 9 hours a day.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on 27 August that a number of ironworkers had backed down on their wage demands following an increased offer by employers but said the strike would not end if employers denied them an eight-hour day.

French Catholic missionary priest the Rev. Paul Vallet, a long-standing supporter of the international Young Christian Workers movement, said at the prayer meeting that the government only took into account the opinions of professional people with a high social status. The ironworkers were also professional people, but they were ignored by the government, he said.

The priest, who has been working in factories as a priest alongside workers, praised the striking labourers for being courageous enough to stand up and fight against injustice.

Christians at the prayer meeting urged the Hong Kong government to implement policy ito bring the territory into line with international labour standards that guarantee the right of workers to negotiate with their employers.

With acknowledgments to Ecumenical News International (http://www.eni.ch)

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