Drivers with the three major bus operators demanded pay rises of between 5 and 7.5 per cent yesterday - six months after they received a wage increase in June. The union behind the request refused to predict whether the proposal might escalate into industrial action if negotiations fell through, but said the demand was reasonable in the face of the vigorous pace of inflation. The Motor Transport Workers General Union - which represents drivers from Kowloon Motor Bus, New World First Bus and Citybus - said that before proposing the rise, they took into account the companies' recent cost increases: the toll rise at the Western Harbour Tunnel and fuel price rises. 'Last year we demanded a rise of 7.5 per cent; this year we still proposed 7.5 per cent despite a big improvement in the economy,' said Chung Kin-wah, the union's KMB deputy director. The demand applies to 8,000 drivers with KMB and 4,000 with New World and Citybus - both controlled by the New World First Bus company. New World said it would start negotiations after its financial year ends in March, while KMB said it would begin talks in June. A KMB spokeswoman said the company's staff had been given a pay rise of 2.5 per cent and a one-off bonus of HK$400 last June. Drivers of the New World group were given a monthly wage increase of 2.9 per cent - or no less than HK$271 - in June. Employees with good performance records were also given a one-off bonus of HK$1,000. Speaking on behalf of his colleagues from the other bus companies, Mr Chung insisted that a rise of 7.5 per cent was not too high considering the 2.7 per cent inflation rate in November. 'When you go for lunch, when you shop for pork and bread in the supermarket, tell me, did the price only rise by some 2.7 per cent?' Food prices, including pork and beef, rose by more than 30 per cent over the past year. The two bus operators have applied for increases in transport fares, still pending approval of the government. Mr Chung said he hoped lower-paid contract drivers earning below HK$10,000 a month would be given a larger increase. Two other unions at New World First Bus and Citybus, who claimed to represent 2,000 drivers, said they had not yet discussed whether the proposed rate was appropriate. The two unions - controlled by the Confederation of Trade Unions - mobilised about 1,000 drivers last year to participate in a work-to-rule protest.