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Transport and logistics

Hong Kong bus drivers plan work-to-rule over Transport Department’s failure to remove guidelines that can lead to 14-hour shifts

Union expects 4,000 drivers to take part in industrial action and warns of ‘escalation’ if changes are not made

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 10:53am

A bus drivers’ union expects about 4,000 drivers to join a work-to-rule on Friday morning in protest against the Transport Department’s failure to remove a guideline that could see them working 14-hour shifts.

And a union official warned that if this week’s action had no affect, then an “escalation” could be expected.

Some drivers from all three of the city’s bus firms had wanted the “special shift” agreement removed from the revised guidelines on working hours, arguing it meant the issue of exhausted drivers behind the wheel remained unresolved.

At the moment, companies can schedule drivers for 14-hour shifts, with not less than three consecutive hours of rest time in between. So far, only KMB have been implementing 14-hour special shifts to handle busy hours in the morning and evening.

Members of the Federation of Bus Industry Trade Unions, which represents about 2,000 drivers from the city’s three largest franchised bus companies – KMB, Citybus and New World First Bus – are upset at the move, as well as the failure to make the rest time payable.

The union’s spokesman Chung Chung-fai, of New World First Bus, said that during the work-to-rule, which will begin with the first buses of the day, and run until 10am, drivers would not drop off or pick up passengers before the vehicles were completely into the designated areas in bus stops.

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Moreover, oversized or overweight luggage will not be allowed on buses.

And, during busy hours when the number of standing passengers meant the yellow lines next to the drivers’ seat were crossed, drivers on overloaded vehicles would refuse to continue their journeys.

“We estimate that the impact [of the industrial action] will be small,” Chung said. “We don’t want to cause inconvenience to the public at the beginning of our action. But, if the Transport Department continues not to respond our requests directly, an escalation of our action is expected.”

It is estimated that the bus stops for various routes at the entrance to the Cross Harbour Tunnel in Hung Hom will be the worst affected by the work-to-rule.

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A spokesman from KMB said it would strictly comply with the department’s revised guidelines, which it said struck a balance between working hours, rest time and service standards.

The company said it would closely monitor the operations on Friday, and if necessary take action to minimise the effect on the public.

Meanwhile, a spokesman from Citybus, and New World First Bus, which are both owned by NWS Holdings, said the 14-hour special shift in the department’s guideline was just a cap, and the company had told five unions in the companies it was hoping to cut it to 13 hours or below before early 2020.

A Transport Department spokesman said currently the bus companies needed to arrange special shifts to cater for the demand during morning and evening peak periods. They would need to recruit 1,600 additional bus captains if all the special shifts were cancelled.

The department appealed to the drivers to remain rational and exercise restraint in the course of striving for their labour rights and maintain proper bus services.