Hong Kong bus drivers suspend strike threats, claiming ‘preliminary success’ in emergency meeting with KMB management
Company agrees to review appraisal system and look into protective panels for staff, among other ‘positive measures’
Protesting bus drivers in Hong Kong have suspended threats of industrial action after the city’s largest franchised bus company agreed to “positive measures” during an emergency meeting.
The session, which ended at about 1am on Tuesday, was a last-ditch effort to break the deadlock after the driver issued an ultimatum to KMB management to meet their union leader and discuss demands for higher pay, among other issues.
Protest leader Yip Wai-lam – whose newly formed union, Full-time KMB Drivers’ Alliance, was behind a wildcat strike over the weekend – announced after the meeting the union would suspend all industrial action.
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“We are very happy management has given a positive response to our three demands,” Yip said. “We have had preliminary success towards our goal.”
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.
Lam Tsz-ho, deputy head of KMB’s communications and public affairs department, said the company would review the annual appraisal system when reviewing pay levels.
He said the company would also look into installing a transparent separation panel at the driver’s seat to better protect employees from harassment.
Regarding the third point, Lam said all drivers could express their opinions to the company through established channels, but he did not say whether the company would consult Yip’s alliance specifically before introducing any policies.
Lam also did not say whether there would be any future consequences for the alliance’s actions.
“KMB will definitely handle this issue in a fair, professional and reasonable way,” he said.
Yip said she hoped the company would be more considerate to frontline staff.
“A single spark can start a prairie fire,” she said.
About 20 drivers staged a sit-in outside KMB’s offices in Kowloon Bay on Monday after talks planned for the afternoon between Yip and KMB management were cancelled because company bosses would meet her only as an individual employee under regular procedures – not as the representative of the new union.
The alliance was supported by the 400-member Staff Rights Association KMB, whose chairman Li Kwok-wah warned of strikes if Yip ended up getting sacked.
Last week the Motor Transport Workers General Union’s KMB branch, the biggest labour union for KMB staff, struck a deal with management to ease pressure on drivers and include performance-based bonuses to take their basic monthly pay package to HK$15,365 (US$1,963). However, Yip and others were not satisfied and formed their new union to push for HK$18,000 a month.
Wong Sing-cheung, president of the KMB Workers’ General Union, which has about 2,000 members, said on Tuesday Yip’s proposed pay level was too high and would put junior drivers’ salaries on a par with those of senior drivers.
He called for Yip to join his union instead of starting a new organisation.
KMB employs about 8,300 full-time drivers, who have formed at least five different labour unions.
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Yip’s new alliance, which claims to represent 1,000 drivers, staged a strike on Saturday with “at least a dozen” taking part, but bus operations and traffic across the city were mostly unaffected. The industrial action ended after KMB agreed to meet Yip on Monday.
Working conditions at KMB are under intense scrutiny after 19 passengers were killed in the city’s deadliest road accident in nearly 15 years. The crash in Tai Po on February 10 put a spotlight on the plight of overworked and underpaid drivers, prompting the government to promise a comprehensive investigation into bus safety as a whole.
Unions complained the lack of fresh talent because of low salaries had led to an overreliance on part-time drivers to ease the manpower shortage.