KMB puts hold on decision to sack four Hong Kong bus drivers who took part in strike
The U-turn was announced after KMB management held an emergency meeting with the protesting drivers
Hong Kong's largest bus company on Wednesday put on hold its decision to sack four drivers for taking part in an impromptu strike last month, hours after the dismissal prompted a sit-in protest at one of its depots.
The U-turn was announced in the early hours of Wednesday after KMB management held an emergency meeting with the protesting drivers.
The four drivers, who included the leader of the strike, Yip Wai-lam, were told that they would continue to receive their pay and that KMB would launch a review of the dismissal decision as soon as possible.
A KMB spokesman said on Tuesday night that Yip had stopped driving without authorisation during the strike, threatening the safety of passengers and other road users.
Lam Tsz-ho, deputy head of KMB’s communications and public affairs department, said the decision to suspend the dismissal was made after the drivers appealed against the move.
He said the appeal would be handled by an independent committee according to the established procedure.
Announcing the decision to her supporters after the meeting, Yip said: "Justice will last and truth will be supported”.
The company previously said it had decided to take disciplinary action by terminating Yip’s employment. Yip’s husband, also a KMB driver, and two other drivers who took part in the strike, were also fired for “serious violations”.
Yip, the leader of the newly formed Full-time KMB Driver Alliance, which claims to represent 1,000 full-time drivers, was paid compensation of about HK$76,000 in lieu of notice, but she refused to sign the agreement.
Yip’s husband also refused to sign a similar agreement.
Late into the evening on Tuesday, about 50 members of the public and a number of pro-democratic political parties went to KMB’s depot on Stonecutters Island to show their support for Yip. They included at least six KMB drivers and two representatives from the Staff Rights Association of KMB and the KMB Staff Union.
They staged a sit-in at the depot and called for other KMB drivers to join in.
“If we don’t come out, we will be finished,” Yip said. “Hong Kong bosses will be able to do whatever they like to their employees.”
Yip said they were demanding KMB withdraw the decision to fire her, her husband and the other two drivers, and agree not to “crack down on unions”.
One KMB driver at the sit-in said he supported Yip because she was helping others.
“I’m not worried about consequences,” said the driver, who had been at the company for two years. “You can find a similar job easily but you can’t find another person brave enough to speak out for us.”
Another driver, who had been with KMB for seven years, said: “[Yip] was doing the right thing in fighting for reasonable treatment for us. It’s not about money. It’s about the system and whether it’s fair to everybody.”
Yip launched a short-lived strike on the night of February 24 to oppose the firm’s new pay restructuring exercise.
The action ended after KMB agreed to meet Yip on the following Monday.
Yip said she had not been assigned any shifts since the strike and management had told her to wait at the company premises on Tuesday before informing her she was being fired because of the strike.
“I think the public can see clearly [if this is retaliation],” she said.
Yip and her husband had been working at KMB for five years.
They turned in their staff cards but refused to sign the agreement or accept the compensation cheque, she said.
Her union would discuss with other KMB unions what to do next, and she hoped the Labour Department would intervene, she added.
“Although I’ve lost a job and I will miss my colleagues, I have done my duty,” she said.
“To be able to have achieved this, I have no regrets in my life.”
She said she and her husband had expected the consequences of their industrial action, but they were saddened that other drivers had to suffer because of it.
The Labour Department said on Tuesday night that the reason for their sacking would be a key issue. The Employment Ordinance safeguards employees’ rights to join trade unions. If employers sacked the staff because they exercised their rights, they could be subject to prosecution.
The department said it would contact those concerned.
During the strike, launched by the alliance shortly after 8pm on February 24, Yip and another KMB driver 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 only exit.
About five other buses not part of the strike were caught behind the two vehicles for 15 minutes.
Yip claimed at least a dozen drivers joined the industrial action, although traffic and bus operations across the city were mostly unaffected.
The 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 Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions said KMB’s “reprisal” was shameful and outrageous. It said Yip and the alliance had done nothing wrong. It urged the company to reinstate the sacked bus drivers’ jobs unconditionally.
The Labour Party said it was shocked by KMB’s actions, which it said were “naked suppression against the unions”. It called on the public to go to the KMB depot on Stonecutters Island on Tuesday night to show support for the drivers.
Li Kwok-wah, chairman of the 400-member Staff Rights Association, said drivers should go to the site, and the group would consider their next action.
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.
KMB’s disciplinary action came a week after a one-hour meeting between its management and Yip late on February 26 after which Yip called off all industrial action as she said the alliance was “very happy management has given a positive response” to their three demands.
One of the demands was to scrap an annual performance appraisal, which drivers complained put them under too much pressure.
They also urged their employers and the government to launch public education campaigns after recent incidents of passengers verbally abusing and even physically assaulting drivers for skipping stops or failing to arrive on time.
The third demand was for the company to consult them before working out policies concerning drivers.