Reviews must lead to greater bus safety in Hong Kong
Industrial action by KMB drivers in the wake of the crash that killed 19 people was wrong, and the answer has to lie with companies and the government
From cutting work hours to adjusting wages, bus companies and the government are introducing a series of reforms in the wake of the KMB crash that killed 19 people earlier this month. Sadly, they have become flashpoints for disputes before showing whether they are the way to make bus trips safer for everyone in Hong Kong.
That the issue has shifted from bus safety to drivers’ wages is to be regretted. Although the industrial action on Saturday did not cause much inconvenience to the public, it does nothing for the industry’s image and the quest to improve safety.
The right to strike is enshrined in the Basic Law, but it should only be exercised sparingly. Unless the cause is well justified, large-scale industrial actions are unlikely to win much sympathy. In any case, such steps should only be considered when bosses and unionists fail to reach a consensus after repeated negotiations via the existing channels. In the case of the latest action, the organiser was neither representative, nor had it followed the mechanism before resorting to such behaviour.
Whether pay structure reviews by KMB and other franchised bus companies are the answer remains to be seen. While there is certainly a case to review all aspects of bus operations, better salaries do not necessarily reduce accidents. Although the KMB review is separate from its annual pay adjustment, the conversion of some performance-based bonuses into basic salaries inevitably gives the impression that they are just cosmetic changes.
In a belated but welcome step, the maximum daily duty hours for all bus drivers will be slashed from 14 to 12, and driving hours will be reduced from 11 to 10. This is a positive change to prevent drivers from overstretching themselves for higher overtime wages. Rising from HK$70.90 to HK$96 per hour, the new overtime rate offered by KMB is arguably an incentive for drivers to work longer hours. The implications for safety cannot be ignored.
Separately, the independent review on bus safety undertaken by the city’s leader should start as soon as possible. Hopefully, there will be a more comprehensive approach to making bus trips safer for everyone.