The Transport Department's tendering policy on government-owned tunnels and tolled highways is compromising motorists' safety, unions claimed yesterday. The Federation of Trade Unions said it was concerned that Tsing Ma Management Ltd had sacked 43 operational staff last month after it won a six-year contract to continue managing the Tsing Ma Control Area. Another 80 cleaning and catering staff were saved from the axe after the unions' protest but they were forced to take a pay cut of up to 25 per cent. The union said the sackings reflected flaws in the Government's tendering mechanism for the rights to manage its seven road tunnels and tolled highways - the Cross Harbour, Lion Rock, Aberdeen, Shing Mun, Tseung Kwan O and airport tunnels, and the Lantau Link. 'This 'lowest-bid-wins' tendering system has, in effect, led the bidding companies to put cost-saving as their priority,' federation vice-chairman and legislator Leung Fu-wah said. 'Hence, the current managing firm will be forced to turn on its workers if it wants its contract renewed.' The Hong Kong Tunnel and Highway Employees' General Union, affiliated to the federation, said more than 1,200 affiliated workers could be at risk from the tendering system over the next five years. It said any staff cuts would impose heavy strains on general operations. 'For example, in the Tsing Ma case, the company has reduced the number of divisions from four to three with the sackings, which means there will be more work and areas for the rest to cover,' union chairman Ng Ho-yin said. 'We are worried what will happen if there is a serious emergency on the Lantau Link, the only road connecting the airport with the rest of Hong Kong.' The unions plan to meet the Transport Department on Tuesday to air their concerns and to demand the tendering system be scrapped and replaced by a separate assessment process. The department said last night the tendering process was effective and had taken into account factors such as service standard and prices. Meanwhile, corporate finance specialist Charles Ng Ming-wah, managing director of Equitas Capital, said the privatisation of government tunnels could raise about $8 billion if franchises were sold with a toll adjustment mechanism to ensure a stable source of income. Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen floated in his Budget the idea of privatising the Aberdeen, Cross-Harbour, Lion Rock, Shing Mun and Tseung Kwan O tunnels.