Union ends bus strike as support shrivels, but hints at future action

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 August, 2010, 12:00am

Organisers of the city's first bus strike in 21 years have been forced to end their action after the second day of the protest attracted an even poorer response among union members than the first day.

However, New World First Bus Company Staff Union, an affiliate of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said it would be halting its strike plans only temporarily and would launch further action in future - possibly without prior notice.

Lee Cheuk-yan, CTU's founding member, warned: 'This will be a lasting battle.'

Only 64 New World First Bus drivers joined the strike yesterday - down from Monday's 77 participants; the low turnout meant there was no obvious impact on passengers.

CTU's Citybus Employees Union also said yesterday it would halt its work-to-rule, while the CTU's Kowloon Motor Bus Staff Union has ended its action, which involved drivers staying an extra 10 seconds at each bus stop.

The bus companies have refused to take part in further negotiations with the CTU, and the government has offered no support to the strike started over the union's demands for a 2.2 per cent pay rise - instead of the 1.8 per cent accepted by the CTU's rival, the bigger and more powerful Federation of Trade Unions.

The difference in pay is about HK$40 a month on average, but CTU unionists said much more was at stake; they said it was a chance for the smaller union to win over FTU members and employers' recognition.

The CTU's strike follows a long-standing competition over membership and representation with the FTU; the CTU claims it has been sidelined in annual pay talks as firms have always reached agreement with the FTU first. More than 100 bus drivers marched to the Transport and Housing Bureau's Central headquarters to protest yesterday.

Lee said: 'Our members are now taking a step back. They will reorganise and strengthen their links with colleagues. They will hold further talks before any further move.

He said the poll of CTU New World Staff Union members over strike action had suggested the support of more than 600 drivers. 'Most said 'yes', but when the action began many backed down. We will wait for now, but in time, when the FTU fails to get what drivers want, we'll be there to fight for them.'

Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng said bus drivers needed to use more constructive methods to express their concerns than strikes. 'They should put the public's interest first,' she said.

'Most bus drivers had already accepted the pay rise following a round of wage negotiations. Staff that were unhappy with the outcome should have respected that mechanism.'

Yet Chung Chung-fai, chairman of the CTU's First Bus staff union, was angry that Cheng had not helped the union to liaise with bus companies. 'Do we have a mechanism at all? Employers can choose to talk to whichever union they want; is this what she called a fair mechanism that we should respect?'