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Traffic and road safety in Hong Kong

Bus driver work shifts under review after fatal Hong Kong crash, labour chief says

Revelation made as unions renew call to raise pay amid manpower shortage

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 September, 2017, 4:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 11:19pm

Transport workers under the two biggest labour unions have called on the government to carry out a complete overhaul of franchise bus drivers’ pay structure and working hours to minimise overwork and lower traffic accident risks.

This came as transport officials on Sunday said it would follow up with bus companies and consider reviewing of the established guidelines for drivers’ shifts after a deadly bus crash on Friday.

Three people were killed and 31 others injured when a route E21A Citybus-operated double-decker mounted a pavement in Sham Shui Po and ploughed into pedestrians. The driver, 44, was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving causing death and released on bail.

Kung Sui-tong, deputy head of the Motor Transport Workers General Union’s Citybus branch, said the driver had a record of being “reliable and hardworking” during his five years of employment.

He had recently switched from working the regular airport “A” line to doing overnight shifts to earn more money. His original shift was 9pm on the night of the crash, but was asked by his supervisor to start at around 5pm, which he willingly agreed to, Kung said.

The Post learned earlier that the driver had recently been working 14 hours a day – the maximum number the department recommends for drivers. But Citybus claimed he had sufficient rest time of at least 10 hours as stipulated by regulation, between shifts.

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Both the union and the separate Federation of Bus Industry Trade Unions yesterday called for a more progressive pay scale for drivers and to reduce reliance on overtime work amid low salaries and a manpower shortage.

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“Because of the low salary, some bus drivers have to work overtime to support themselves,” said federation vice-chairman Henry Hui Hon-kit, a Citybus driver.

HK$15,000 is definitely not enough for a driver to support a family
Henry Hui, union official

Hui said base salaries started at just HK$13,000. Including other allowances, the average monthly take home pay was HK$15,000. “[That’s] definitely not enough for a driver to support a family. It’s the low salary that makes it difficult to hire and retain manpower.”

The department’s guidelines on working hours and rest times – which stipulate drivers may work up to 11 hours per day – did not help either, he said.

Both groups called for a pay rise for bus drivers and a review of guidelines to improve working conditions. The federation hoped the maximum number of driving hours could be cut to 10 hours and the maximum number of working hours to 12.

But Cheung Tsz-kei, the general union’s principal vice-chair and a Long Win bus driver, said the problem of overwork would persist if drivers did not get at least 20 to 30 minutes of consecutive rest between routes.

His union also called for better road design such as setting countdown timers for traffic lights, demarcating all bus stops with double yellow lines and building rest stations at all terminuses.

A Transport Department spokesman said it would follow-up with bus companies and if necessary, review the working guidelines for drivers.

A Citybus spokesman said the company paid new drivers base salaries of at least HK$15,000, excluding overtime, which were “in line with market rates” and complied with all the department’s guidelines on rest and working hours.

“As to whether the guidelines need to be adjusted, the company will study this with the department,” he said.

A devastated Mr Chow, nephew of one of those killed – 60-year-old Tse Fung-ying – questioned the bus company’s rationale.

“Do you think it was reasonable to let drivers work to their maximum [hours, just because] the government said that was alright?”

As of 5pm on Sunday, three victims out of 31 were still in serious condition in hospital, a government spokesman said. Eleven people were in stable condition, while 17 had been discharged.

Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam