Bus driver unionists warn of escalating action as Hong Kong commuters remain unfazed by 5,000-strong work-to-rule protest
Industrial action staged to pressure Transport Department to scrap arrangement that could see drivers working 14-hour shifts
Bus driver unions in Hong Kong said they would “not rule out” a strike as Friday morning commuters were mostly unaffected by a work-to-rule protest against 14-hour shifts.
At one of the city’s busiest interchanges, near the entrance of the Cross Harbour Tunnel in Hung Hom, some rush-hour passengers said they had not noticed a delay.
An office clerk, who gave her name as Fanny, said she left home 10 minutes earlier than usual to catch a bus to North Point.
“I was worried I would need to wait longer,” she said.
Sze Man-wai, president of the Federation of Bus Industry Trade Unions, which represents drivers from the city’s three largest franchised bus companies, estimated about 5,000 bus drivers took part in the industrial action.
The protest began with the first buses of the day and ran until 10am. Drivers did not drop off or pick up passengers until their vehicles were completely inside designated areas at bus stops.
Other rules were less stringently enforced. Journeys continued even when overcrowding caused some commuters to cross a yellow warning line near the driver, and passengers carrying oversized luggage were still allowed to board.
The Transport Department said traffic conditions on Friday morning were similar to those on other mornings, and bus services were normal.
Bus company KMB thanked frontline staff for staying at their positions and assisting in bus operations. The firm said it would continue to maintain communication with its staff and listen to their opinion.
Citybus and New World First Bus said they had sent extra frontline staff to major bus stations on Friday.
Not all drivers supported the industrial action. One New World First Bus employee put a sign on his cab saying that the federation did not represent him.
“I have had enough rest and am wide awake. I strongly oppose a reduction in my salary,” the sign read.
KMB’s largest labour union, the 8,000-member KMB branch of the pro-government Motor Transport Workers General Union, had said on Thursday that it would not support the protest.
There are about 13,000 bus drivers in Hong Kong, including the Discovery Bay, Lantau and Park Island bus companies.
Kwok Chi-sing, chairman of the KMB Employees Union, said he had received a threatening message from a KMB driver after announcing his union would support the action.
The message, posted in a WhatsApp group for drivers and bus enthusiasts, claimed the sender was a triad member and threatened Kwok’s personal safety if he “brought problems” to areas along North Point and Wan Chai. Kwok reported the incident to police.
KMB urged bus drivers to report to police immediately if they are intimidated or have discovered any illegal behaviour.
Sze, from the federation, said the union had achieved its goal.
“The action was more successful than we expected,” Sze said. “The Transport Department was made aware of our demands.”
The group’s vice-president, Lam Kam-piu, said the union would need to discuss its next step, depending on how the authorities reacted to the drivers’ demand.
Both Lam and Sze warned that action could still escalate and did not rule out a strike.
The drivers were unhappy with the Transport Department’s revised work hour guidelines following one of the deadliest bus crashes in Hong Kong’s history.
A KMB double-decker flipped on its side in Tai Po days before the Lunar New Year, killing 19 passengers and injuring 67.
The federation said earlier that a “special shift” arrangement, which allowed drivers to work up to 14 hours a day, should have been removed from the revised guidelines. It argued keeping the arrangement meant drivers could still be overworked.
The department said on Friday that it would continue to encourage franchised bus companies to make effective shift arrangements for bus drivers and to reduce their work and driving hours where possible.
It added that it would closely monitor the arrangements for special shifts by different bus companies and to ensure there was operational need for such shifts arrangement.