Redundancy option under fire New World First Bus and sister company Citybus say they may be forced to lay off staff in the face of soaring fuel costs, a disappointing fare rise and a pay claim from their workers that they cannot afford. A spokeswoman for the operators said they were under huge stress from fuel prices and a 5 to 7 per cent pay rise sought by the bus unions was beyond their capability. She said 3 per cent was the most they could afford. The stance was immediately slammed by unionist lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing who said the operators were displaying an 'angry face' to the staff and the public and were not being socially responsible. And a union said it would be unfair to sack staff as they were not to blame for the rising fuel prices. The company's warning came after the Executive Council last month approved fare rises ranging from 2 per cent to 7.24 per cent for five bus operators - Kowloon Motor Bus, Long Win Bus, New Lantao Bus, New World First Bus and Citybus on its island and cross-harbour routes. All five expressed disappointment saying the approved increases were lower than they had demanded. Yesterday the First Bus and Citybus spokeswoman said the companies would keep losing money even after the fare rise takes effect on Sunday. They would actively consider cutting money-losing routes and cutting the frequency on others, and would not rule out the possibility of axing staff. A spokesman for the New World First Bus Company Staff Union, Chung Chung-fai, said it would be unfair to sack staff in these circumstances. 'Why should we be held responsible for expensive fuel?' Mr Chung asked. 'If the company had to cut bus routes which are losing money or to avoid overlapping of bus routes, then, we think it would be fair to sack staff. But this is not the case,' he said. Mr Chung said the company has raised the possibility of layoffs during the pay negotiations. 'But the company also told us that they were considering a series of measures to lighten the financial burden imposed by the rising fuel costs.' The Citybus Employees Union said it was regrettable that the company had publicised its call for acceptance of a 3 per cent pay rise before negotiations were complete. Meanwhile, Chiang Chi-wai, chairman of the Lok Ma Chau-Hong Kong Freight Association, said more than 500 drivers of various kinds of vehicles from 20 organisations would join a protest by blocking roads next Tuesday to demand the government reduce fuel tax. 'We might do the protest in Central, Tseung Kwan O or Kwai Chung. We have not decided yet. We want the government to help lighten our burden, as we are hit hard by the rising fuel prices already and the fuel tax makes our lives more difficult,' he said. Protesters would include drivers of trucks and minibuses.