Bid to solve bus talks deadlock

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 June, 2008, 12:00am

The Labour Department has stepped into deadlocked wage talks between New World First Bus and Citybus and their employees.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung yesterday urged both sides to stay calm and keep talking in bid to reach a consensus. 'We are prepared to provide assistance like mediation if it is necessary,' he said.

The labour chief's remarks come as unions seek wage rises of between 5 and 7 per cent, versus the 3 per cent rise offered by the two bus companies controlled by Chow Tai Fook Enterprises.

The dispute is set against a backdrop of rising oil prices that have brought increasing complaints from transport operators who want cuts or even abolition of diesel fuel duty.

Unionists said while it was not unusual for labour officials to monitor bus company wage talks, officials however only became involved later if the deadlock persisted.

They said some unions appeared to have softened their stance, saying if the company was willing to offer more, they would consider lowering their demands.

But Citybus Employees Union secretary Tang Sin-hing said: 'If the company insists on sticking to its proposals, I can say the talks are going to be a long war.'

Chung Chung-fai, secretary of the New World First Bus Company Staff Union, said it was the responsibility of the bus companies and government to deal with oil-price hikes. Shifting extra costs to bus users or workers was not a viable option.

The two unions planned to march next Friday from Chater Garden to New World Centre in Central, where the bus companies are headquartered, then on to Wan Chai to meet transport and labour officials.

On Wednesday, the bus companies warned of possible layoffs if they were forced to cut unprofitable routes because of high oil prices and government approval of lower-than-expected fare rises.