Sun Hung Kai Properties

Bus drivers predict protest will bring chaos

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 June, 2006, 12:00am

Commuters urged to use other transport and union threatens general strike after pay talks break down

Commuters and road users have been warned of possible long delays and disruption because of planned industrial action today by bus drivers after last-minute negotiations with their companies broke down yesterday.

Drivers from the four bus companies will stage a work-to-rule between 10am and noon, with an estimated 6,000 journeys affected.

They have also threatened to escalate their action tomorrow and call a general strike on Wednesday if their demand for a pay rise is not satisfied.

The work-to-rule today will see protesting drivers wait until passengers are seated before setting off, stopping at every stop even if no one is waiting to get on or off, and not pulling away from a bus stop until the bus in front has left. They will also drive in the slow lane only.

The Motor Transport Workers General Union last night claimed the work to rule would lead to serious traffic build-up along such main routes as King's Road on Hong Kong Island and Nathan Road in Kowloon.

Traffic would not return to normal until late afternoon, the union warned.

Union spokesman Chung Kin-wah warned their action would be escalated tomorrow, when they would take industrial action between 7am and 10am, and 4pm and 7pm, should the bus companies continue to ignore their demands.

'We would not rule out calling a general strike on Wednesday,' Mr Chung said.

'The bus operators are making money every year but have refused to improve our pay. They show no sincerity at all in the discussion. They should be held responsible in case of traffic chaos.'

The Transport Department said it had alerted other public transport companies, which would be prepared to strengthen services if needed. The department also urged commuters to use other modes of transport if possible.

The drivers' action was prompted after bus operators and drivers failed to reach an agreement despite negotiations yesterday.

There are four franchised bus companies in Hong Kong. Citybus and New World First Bus, serving mainly Hong Kong Island, are operated by NWS Holdings.

KMB Group operates Kowloon Motor Bus, which serves mainly Kowloon side, and its subsidiary company Long Win Bus operates services to the airport and Tung Chung.

The director of the union's KMB branch, Lam Shun-ping, said after yesterday morning's meeting with the bus management that drivers were only promised a special one-off bonus of $250 for next year.

'It is an insult, not a bonus. That translates into less than 70 cents a day,' said Mr Lam, whose union has demanded a 4.5 per cent pay rise.

KMB workers were given a 2.36 per cent pay rise in 2001. Their wages have since been frozen and workers only received one-off bonuses of $750 to $1,000 from 2002 to 2004.

Kowloon Motor Bus said it appreciated the drivers' requests but the company had not adjusted fares since 1998, during which oil prices had gone up over three times and tunnel tolls by 34 per cent.