Instructors from the School of Motoring went on strike yesterday, complaining that the management had sacked two experienced coaches and replaced them with new recruits on lower wages.
The 15 strikers used private cars and other obstacles to block the entrance to the school's road safety centre in Yuen Long for about three hours from 7am to express their discontent. Their actions caused seven candidates' driving tests to be postponed.
The sacked pair said they suspected they had been dismissed because they had been organising a workers' union to change the licensing system, which allowed them to teach only at designated driving schools but not conduct private lessons.
"We didn't do anything wrong and didn't receive any warnings before being fired," said Ho Tak-ming, who had taught at the school for 23 years.
He said no reason was given for the dismissal.
The other instructor, Kevin Ma Wai-hung, with 16 years of coaching experience, said he and Ho felt exploited. "Because of the licensing system, we can't teach elsewhere and are inevitably exploited by the school," he said.
Ma said the newly recruited instructors had been hired on wages at least 30 per cent lower than those paid to experienced coaches, suggesting that salary issues might be the reason the school fired them.
As of November, the city had 330 driving instructors with fixed licences and 945 private instructors. Private coaches are allowed to conduct private lessons, but those with fixed licences have to teach at designated driving schools in Ap Lei Chau, Kwun Tong, Sha Tin and Yuen Long.
The strikers called on the government to review the licensing system and did not rule out another strike on Monday if the coaches were not reinstated.
The school, which employs about 200 driving instructors, rejected the strikers' allegations.
"Our company puts a lot of time and resources into training coaches. It is not possible that we would replace them with new recruits only because of a lower wage," the school's marketing and communication head Alan Soong Wai-leung said, although he declined to disclose the reason behind the dismissal.
"A lot of instructors participated in organising the workers' union. There's no direct correlation [to Ho and Ma's sacking]."
The Transport Department said driving tests for the seven candidates were postponed because of the strike. It said the director of transport regularly reviewed the need to issue licences to private driving instructors.