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Traffic and road safety in Hong Kong

Unions split over new pay deal for bus drivers following deadly Hong Kong crash

KMB heeded long-standing demands to guarantee a higher basic monthly salary for drivers and also raised overtime pay

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 February, 2018, 12:40pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 February, 2018, 10:38pm

Two separate drivers’ unions of Hong Kong’s largest franchised bus operator were at loggerheads on Thursday over the company’s promise of new pay arrangements, with one welcoming it as a guarantee of a stable income and the other lamenting it as a “game of numbers”.

KMB management on Wednesday heeded long-standing demands to guarantee a higher basic monthly salary of HK$15,365 (US$1,963) for drivers, regardless of performance, and also raised overtime pay from HK$70.90 to HK$96 per hour. Rival firm Citybus quickly followed KMB’s lead and was also discussing pay deals, another union said.

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KMB has been under pressure to address drivers’ grievances after one of its double deckers flipped on its side in Tai Po two weeks ago killing 19 passengers and injuring more than 60 others. It was the city’s worst road traffic accident in 15 years.

“I must stress that this is not a pay rise, but an enhancement and adjustment [of the current pay structure],” Lai Siu-chung, chairman of the Motor Transport Workers General Union’s KMB branch, told a radio programme.

His organisation, which is affiliated with the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions and claims to represent almost all of the company’s 8,000 drivers, was one of the two unions that helped negotiate the deal with management.

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“Employees with a clear mind will be able to see that after so many years, we are now closer to what can be called a stable income. Hopefully they will be able to retain more drivers in the company.”

Under current arrangements, most full-timers are already paid at least HK$15,365 a month, but HK$3,556 of that is bonus pay based on meeting safety and “good service” requirements, which Lai said made drivers live under immense “psychological pressure” and the fear of losing the bonuses.

He said a driver’s bonuses could be deducted for reasons such as getting in an accident, receiving a complaint from a passenger or even forgetting to adjust the Octopus card reader to give passengers the right rebate.

Asked if the scrapping of the safety bonus would make drivers less careful behind the wheel, Lai said the company would only be returning to an existing mechanism of verbal and written warnings, and that most drivers would continue to be professional.

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As for higher overtime pay, he estimated that up to 80 per cent of drivers would stand to benefit as most full-timers could earn up to a third of their salaries from overtime work.

Kwong Wai-kwong, who heads the KMB Staff Union, welcomed the measure but accused the other union of “misleading people” and “pretending that they don’t know that management is playing a numbers game”.

“The company has moved the goalposts,” he told the Post. “They are basically taking the money from your left hand and putting it in your right. Without overtime, drivers actually do not gain anything as most would already be making that amount.”

He feared that incomes would be hit if the operator cut operating times and shifts.

Unions are to hold urgent discussions with the Transport Department on the matter soon.

Henry Hui Hon-kit, vice-chairman of the Federation of Bus Industry Trade Unions and a representative for Citybus’ employees’ union, said the management at the company and its sister firm, First Bus, were discussing a similar pay structure adjustment, following KMB’s announcement.

“They reacted very quickly and told us immediately [on Wednesday] that they would follow suit,” he said. Details will be hammered out at a meeting next week, he added.

Citybus and New World First Bus, both owned by developer New World Development’s NWS Holdings, have an near identical pay structure to KMB. However, instead of two types of bonuses, they have three, including ones for safety, performance and diligence.

The average pay for new Citybus and First Bus drivers – including basic salary and bonuses – is slightly lower than KMB’s at HK$14,569, Hui said.

Under the new arrangement, overtime pay for drivers at the two operators – which have about 3,700 full-time and 400 part-time drivers – would rise to about HK$91 an hour, according to the union.

Spokesmen for Citybus and First Bus earlier said the firms would also follow the Transport Department’s revised guidelines on bus drivers’ working hours. The department said the review was nearly finished and results would be announced soon.

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Kwok said his union, which is affiliated with the pro-democracy Confederation of Trade Unions and has about 1,600 members, had suggested since last year a HK$1,500 raise in basic salaries of all tiers of road staff, regardless of performance.

But Lai said there was no way that the company would agree to significant increases, fearing a backlash from the public over potential fare hikes. “We should work on it incrementally,” he said.

The unions will discuss annual wage increases with the company in May.

KMB has not commented on the adjustment, but a source familiar with the company insisted the revisions had been planned for months and had nothing to do with the accident.