Road strike by KMB bus drivers’ union over pay dispute ends before it takes off
Surprise action by group claiming to represent more than 1,000 full-time drivers revealed hours after city’s largest bus firm refused to meet higher salary demand
At least a dozen Hong Kong passengers experienced a short delay in their journeys on Saturday night after a KMB bus drivers’ union unhappy with a pay restructuring exercise launched a strike that proved less disruptive than planned.
Soon after 8pm, two KMB drivers lined up and parked their buses inside a terminus in Tsim Sha Tsui. One vehicle had about 10 passengers on board, and the two buses blocked the station’s lone exit.
About five other buses not part of the strike were caught behind the two vehicles for 15 minutes.
Passengers were mostly calm, and not everyone on board was aware of the situation.
One surnamed Chan said he understood the motivations behind the strike.
“But passengers should not have been used as bargaining chips,” he said, before exiting the bus to take a train instead.
KMB management and police arrived on site at around 8.15pm to enable the blocked buses to get out by using the terminus entrance.
The two who stopped their buses were Yip Wai-lam, spokeswoman of the “Full-time KMB Driver Alliance” that launched the strike, and an unidentified female driver.
Yip expressed no regrets.
“Even if I’m fired after tonight, I will support my colleagues in their fight for better benefits,” she said tearfully.
The “Full-time KMB Driver Alliance” was only set up in recent days and is one of at least five unions representing 8,300 drivers under KMB. Each group holds different views on how their benefits should be improved. The alliance claimed to represent more than 1,000 full-time drivers.
In response to the action, KMB’s So Wai-kei said the company’s two largest unions – the Motor Transport Workers General Union and the Staff Union – had confirmed beforehand they would not participate.
The Motor Transport Workers General Union, with about 8,000 KMB members, struck a deal with the company on Wednesday to improve pay packages, giving its members a 6.8 per cent pay rise.
KMB and other local bus companies have been under intense pressure to address drivers’ grievances after a double-decker crashed in Tai Po on February 10, killing 19 passengers and leaving at least 67 injured. It was the city’s worst road accident in nearly 15 years, and union leaders highlighted long-running concerns about an overworked, underpaid and insufficiently trained pool of drivers.
Wong Sing-cheung, president of the KMB Workers’ General Union, described some striking drivers as being “misled” by “a small number of people” and said he disagreed with the industrial action.
The alliance had said participants in the action would pull over to the side of the road at 8pm on Saturday, regardless of whether passengers were on board. It had planned the strike to run four hours until midnight.
Shorter hours on the road for 13,000 Hong Kong bus drivers after Tai Po crash but union worries about lower pay
It claimed its voice was ignored throughout the negotiations. It demanded a basic salary of HK$18,000 (US$2,300) – up from the HK$15,365 agreed by KMB and the General Union.
Yip announced the industrial action hours after KMB refused to meet the alliance’s demand. She urged drivers to put safety first.
In an emergency internal memo on Saturday, KMB urged all drivers to obey job guidelines and traffic rules, and put passengers first.
“Any violation will be dealt with stringent disciplinary action,” the memo stated.
Police on Saturday advised motorists to drive carefully and take note of traffic conditions “in view of the possible traffic congestion on motorways starting from 8pm”.