Commuter fears after bus-driver pay talks falter
Bus passengers and other commuters face long delays and disruptions tomorrow if bus drivers carry out their threat of industrial action to press their case for pay rises.
Union representatives of drivers for the city's three main bus operators have threatened co-ordinated industrial action if the last-minute negotiations on pay rises break down today.
Yesterday's meeting with their respective employers - Kowloon Motor Bus, New World First Bus and City Bus - ended in deadlock. It was mediated by Transport Department and Labour Department officials.
The drivers are demanding pay rises of 3 per cent to 3.5 per cent. Chung Kin-wah, deputy director of the Kowloon Motor Bus branch of the Motor Transport Workers' General Union, said the management has requested 24 hours to consider the demands. However, he said he believed management was not 'sincere' even after the union lowered their demands.
'They remain strong in their stance. We are not optimistic about today's negotiations. Any collapse [in today's talks] may result in industrial action,' he said.
The drivers had lowered their demands in an earlier round of negotiations on Monday. By the end of the day, Citybus and New World First Bus had offered 2.5 per cent, and Kowloon Motor Bus had raised its offer to 2.5 per cent plus a lump sum of HK$250. But no agreement was reached.
The drivers had initially sought rises of 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent.
The Kowloon Motor Bus branch of the union said the drivers may work-to-rule tomorrow during the 7am-to-10am and 4pm-to-7pm rush hours, if no compromise can be reached today.
Drivers at City Bus and New World First Bus pledged their support for any labour action that might be taken by Kowloon Motor Bus staff.
A Kowloon Motor Bus spokeswoman said the company had held firm on its proposal because it faced higher operational costs and keener competition due to the imminent merger of the two railways.
'The proposal we suggested would account for around 38 per cent of our total operating costs. We are facing pressure as we expect there may be a loss in the number of our commuters following the merger of two railways,' she said.
In a joint statement, the other two bus companies said they would continue to negotiate with their drivers, but they hoped the commuters' interests would come first.
The Motor Transport Workers Union, which represents 9,000 bus drivers and clerks, said that even though Kowloon Motor Bus drivers had enjoyed a pay rise of 1.4 per cent last year, the monthly earnings of many who were hired after 2004 was less than that in 2000.
'The frequency of services of many bus routes has been cut lately and drivers' schedules were rearranged in such a way that they are paid less in the same work,' Mr Chung said.