On the 20th of July about 200 workers gathered outside Watsons water factory in Tai Po and took strike action . Watsons (owned by Li Ka Shing-the world’s 12th richest man) distributes more than 50% of distilled water to offices in Hong Kong.
Despite making profits of more than 50% last year, delivery drivers have seen their wages and commission drop since 2003. As 20,000 bottles of water a day went undelivered, management were forced to negotiate and the delivery workers won a pay rise and a cap on working hours (workers had complained of having to work 16 hour shifts). After a two day strike their demands had been met. Was this a lesson for other underpaid, overworked workers in Hong Kong? If it was, it was one that the workers of Nestle quickly learned.
On the 27th of July 200 Nestle workers took strike action. Nestle has an appalling record on workers rights around the world, and they stay true to form in Hong Kong where workers commissions have been cut 12% since 1996 and 17 hour workdays are commonplace. Nestle also engages in the illegal practise of keeping staff on rolling 12 month temporary contracts. They do this by giving casual staff a 14 day ‘break’ in their contract before rehiring them on another temporary contract. Under Hong Kong law workers are required to be given permanent contracts after 12 months.
The strike came to an end after three days with most of the workers rights being met. This was after Nestle’s bully boy tacticss had failed. They had threatened to close the factory and take it elsewhere if industrial action continued. The victories won by workers of Watsons and Nestle are to be welcomed.
However the real victory lies in the bigger picture. 200 workers unionised at Nestle and won. The Hong Kong public, unanimously supported a strike which stopped water deliveries in one of the hottest Julys on record, and groups of workers showed what can happen when people organise and refuse to be bullied by their employers.
Hong Kong may be a symbol of global capitalism, but in a society where 20% live below the poverty line and millions more are sick of a system which puts profit before people, those who control the wealth shouldn’t will be feeling a little less complacent this summer.
By Miu Dak Kit