Lau Cheung-fai had been working as a rubber tyre gantry crane operator for Global Stevedoring Service, a Hongkong International Terminals subcontractor, since 1998.
Operators are paid daily wages. That pay includes money for an eight-hour shift, lunch allowance plus any overtime, known in Hong Kong as a special shift.
In his 15 years on the dock, Lau has had one pay cut and four rises. At the start, Lau earned HK$385 for eight hours of work and had a HK$45 lunch allowance. Since he worked 12-hour shifts, he received an extra HK$215 (half of the total) for each special shift.
In 1999, during the bad economy, Lau's supervisor asked him to stand by the company. Lau agreed and saw his basic wage cut to HK$370, for eight hours of work. The lunch allowance stayed the same.
However, his pay remained frozen at that rate for the next eight years, even as the economy improved. It was not until 2007 that he was given his first pay rise, HK$3 for an eight-hour shift. A second pay rise of HK$5 per shift came in 2008, and of HK$9 in 2011, bringing his total, including lunch, to HK$432.
In other words, it took 13 years for Lau, a specialised heavy machinery operator, to see his pay rise HK$2 per shift above what his pay was in 1998. 2011 was a year to remember for Lau. After the HK$9 pay rise in April, he was given a HK$50 rise per shift in July, bringing his base pay to HK$482.
The HK$50 rise looks generous compared with the small increases from before, but it was done only to boost his pay above that of newly hired workers, such as Lau's colleague Chan Ka-kui, who was paid HK$464 for eight hours of work in 2011. What's more, inflation over Lau's 15 years of employment hasn't been calculated. Therefore, the HK$430 he earned in 1998 bought more than the HK$432 he earned in 2011.
According to the Census and Statistics Department, the cost of living has risen every year since 2005. That's why Lau and Chan are sleeping on the pavement outside Container Terminal Six, fighting with their colleagues for a better future.