Bus unions are asking for a pay rise of 8 per cent for drivers, which they say is needed to combat inflation and reduce turnover among new recruits.
The demand from the Motor Transport Workers General Union, announced yesterday, comes two months after Kowloon Motor Bus sought a fare increase of 8.5 per cent, citing a loss of HK$15.2 million in the first half of last year. Salary talks are expected to start in the middle of the year.
Tang Wai-cheong of the union, which represents drivers from Kowloon Motor Bus, Long Win, Citybus, New World First Bus and New Lantao Bus, said drivers had noticed an increase in passenger numbers in the past year because of government subsidies and a growing number of mainland tourists.
"If the companies are earning more, they shouldn't only pay their shareholders. They should take care of their employees, too," he said.
The turnover rate among new employees was as high as 70 per cent, he said, while the base salary of some KMB drivers was only HK$8,500. "People can get a higher salary as a security guard. So why would they take a risky job as a bus driver for that rate?"
The union's demand was not related to KMB's requested fare rise, he said. Drivers with KMB and Long Win saw their wages increase by 5 per cent last June, while those with Citybus and New World First Bus received a 5.3 per cent pay bump.
New Lantao Bus administrative manager Wong Wah said the company would discuss the coming year's pay rise with employees.
New World First Bus and subsidiary Citybus said they would discuss salaries with the union in April. The company said it was being squeezed by higher fuel prices and tunnel tolls. KMB said it would discuss the issue with employees after "an analysis of statistics".
Vivien Chan Pik-kwan, KMB's corporate affairs director, said salaries accounted for more than half of the company's costs. It hoped to reorganise 55 per cent of its bus routes to reduce costs, but was facing questions from district councils. If routes could be reorganised, the company would be less pressured to raise fares, she said.
The company hopes to first adjust routes in North District, where some of them overlap with each other or train lines. Chan said the company hoped to complete most of the rerouting before campaigning began for the 2015 district council election.
KMB also plans to arrange interchange stations and to add routes that take passengers directly to the city.