City braces for chaos as bus strike looms

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 August, 2010, 12:00am

Hong Kong is bracing for commuter chaos today as bus drivers stage their first strike in 21 years - all for an average of just an extra HK$40 a month.

Bus drivers have long threatened to strike during wage negotiations with their employers around this time every year. At worst, the drivers previously have resorted to working to rule to press their case. This time, though, one of the unions says it is fighting for more than just HK$40 a month and that conflict will arise every year unless the bus companies change their negotiating tactics.

At the heart of the row is the decision by the powerful Federation of Trade Unions - which has a larger membership and represents drivers from all three bus companies - to accept a 1.8 per cent pay rise. The smaller Confederation of Trade Unions, which had demanded a 2.2 per cent increase, felt betrayed. Bus drivers earn between HK$8,300 and HK$14,000 a month, and the 0.4 percentage point difference is around HK$40 a month on average.

Bus drivers have had a pay increase almost every year - 3.5 per cent in 2008, 1.5 per cent last year and 1.8 per cent proposed for this year. However, the CTU's main complaint is that every year the bus companies reach a deal with the FTU and that agreement is foisted upon the smaller union without discussion. It wants that to change.

'Every time the company simply informed us of the deal they reached with the FTU. They don't care what our members want,' said Tang Sin-hing of the CTU's Citybus Employers Union.

In the case of Kowloon Motor Bus, the CTU's bus drivers' union did not get a chance to talk to the management.

Kwok Wai-kwong, of the KMB Staff Union, said: 'In the past 20 years, KMB's management has never held a meeting with us. We have been sitting in a silent protest for the past three days outside the KMB depot, and the management would not even receive our petition.'

It is believed that today's strike will have only a fraction of the impact of the one carried out in 1989 by drivers of the now-defunct China Motor Bus company. That strike almost crippled transport in parts of Hong Kong Island.

Today's stoppage will hit commuters, particularly those travelling to and from Southern District, Mid-Levels and Eastern District - areas not served by the MTR. Protest organisers expect over 3,000 drivers from New World First Bus, Citybus and Kowloon Motor Bus to take part in three separate industrial actions today. The main one will be a strike by 600 bus captains from New World First Bus.

Late last night, about a dozen repair workers from New World First Bus started their action by staging a sit-in outside the company's office in Chai Wan.

KMB drivers who are members of the CTU will wait an extra 10 seconds at each bus stop after the last passenger has boarded before departing. The KMB drivers will decide whether to strike after seeing the impact of today's action. Citybus drivers will stage a work-to-rule protest.

Lam Lai-fong, a resident of Ap Lei Chau who travels by bus to work, was unhappy with the unions. 'Every year at this time I have to worry if I can get to work on time. I am quite tired of it. I have not had a pay rise for five years, and I still survive,' Lam said.