Hong Kong bus firms in bid to match rival KMB’s salary rise but drivers’ unions say it’s not enough
New World First Bus and sister firm Citybus improve salaries but labour groups say efforts to attract workers amid shortage are doomed to fail
Franchised bus operators New World First Bus and Citybus improved monthly payments and overtime reimbursements for several thousand drivers on Thursday, in a bid to match new pay offers by their bigger rival following new Hong Kong government work requirements.
The Transport Department announced last Friday that bus drivers’ daily maximum duty and driving hours would be cut from 14 hours and 12 hours, respectively, to no more than 12 hours and 10 hours. The rest break after six driving hours would be increased from 30 minutes to 40 minutes.
The new rules came in light of the city’s deadliest bus crash in recent years, involving Hong Kong’s biggest operator KMB, which took 19 lives before the Lunar New Year.
A Citybus spokesman told the Post that the two sister bus companies had a long-standing manpower shortage of some 100 full-time drivers, and to fully implement the guidelines, the firms would need another 50 drivers.
“We hope the new arrangements will make our salaries more competitive in the market,” the spokesman said.
The “salary structure adjustment” would cost an extra HK$58 million annually for the firms. By mid-2017, the two bus companies spent more than HK$804 million on staff costs, according to their fuller disclosures last year.
But drivers’ unions of the two firms poured cold water on the new salaries, saying they still failed to match those of KMB or the private market.
New World First Bus and Citybus, both owned by NWS Holdings, have some 3,700 full-time drivers for 1,637 licensed buses running on 296 routes across the city. In 2016, the two companies carried more than one million passengers a day, according to the Transport Department.
The two firms announced on Wednesday that, from March 1, all current and incoming full-time bus drivers would have three performance-based bonuses merged into their basic salaries, which would add certainty to monthly pay. Based on the higher basic salaries, overtime reimbursement rates would also be increased.
In addition, full-time bus drivers admitted after 1999 – currently about 2,000 – would enjoy another HK$500 raise in their monthly salaries.
For example, for a full-time driver admitted after 1999, the basic salary would rise from HK$12,536 to HK$15,364. The increase included three bonuses, totalling HK$2,328, and the extra HK$500.
Based on the new basic salary, overtime pay would be HK$96 an hour – a 23 per cent increase from the previous HK$78.
The two firms said a full-time driver admitted after 1999 who worked 25 days a month and 10 hours per day could earn at least HK$20,164, or HK$1 less than a KMB driver with the same working conditions.
KMB, which along with sister firm Long Win Bus operates a total of 412 routes, is the largest of the three franchised bus companies in Hong Kong.
Hui Hon-kit, chairman of the Citybus Staff Union, said the wish to attract more drivers with the new salaries would end in vain for his employer.
“KMB offers a monthly salary of HK$21,000 in its recruitment advertisement,” Hui said.
“Not to mention that a private driver can earn HK$16,000 a month by working eight hours a day and HK$21,000 if his hours can be longer.
“And a private driver only needs to handle a small vehicle and a small number of passengers, which is in stark contrast with the responsibility laid upon bus drivers.”
Kwok Wai-kwong, internal vice-chairman of the KMB Staff Union, said the move by his employer’s competitors was not impressive.
“The medium salary in our industry is HK$16,716 and their new basic salary is still below HK$16,000,” Kwok said.
The rival bus groups would start their annual salary negotiations with major unions later this month.
Hui of Citybus said his union would stick with the line from its parent group, the Federation of Trade Unions, and ask for a general pay rise of 6 per cent.
“In fact, [Citybus and NWFB] would have to give the newly admitted drivers another HK$1,300 to make the salaries really competitive,” Hui said.
Kwok, whose group is also under the federation, said they have been trying to approach the newly formed Full-time KMB Drivers’ Alliance so that unions that have long been ignored by the company could have more bargaining power.
The alliance has been in the spotlight recently as its leader, female bus driver Yip Wai-lam, initiated a wildcat strike over the weekend, pushing the management to meet her and listen to her requests including a basic salary rise to HK$18,000.
KMB has not replied to the Post’s inquiries.