Hong Kong bus companies must tackle issues that led to Sham Shui Po crash, Carrie Lam says
Hong Kong’s leader says that legislation is not the way to improve safety in the bus industry
Friday’s deadly bus crash in Hong Kong was indicative of labour issues that need to be addressed by bus companies, not by more laws to regulate the industry, the city’s leader said on Tuesday.
Speaking before the weekly cabinet meeting, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, said the government had liaised with the Citybus, the company that owned the bus in the crash, and would follow up on the issue.
But she brushed aside suggestions that insufficient laws contributed to the crash, which left three people dead and 31 injured when a double-decker ploughed through a pavement and into an overhanging building canopy at the corner of Yen Chow Street and Cheung Sha Wan Road in Sham Shui Po.
“It is not a question of legislation. It is a question of how we can ensure bus operations are safe in Hong Kong, which requires not only regulations from the government, but also full support and cooperation of the bus companies,” she said.
“The government will tackle this both at the more macro-level of labour supply, and also at the operational level of various bus companies.”
Hong Kong is facing a labour crisis as the city’s population ages. The number of local residents aged 65 or older is expected to climb from 1.16 million last year to more than 2.37 million in 2036 – which would be 31.1 per cent of the city’s population by then, government projects show.
Lam said the government will look into how different technologies could help solve the manpower shortage in the busing industry.
“I certainly do not believe everything needs a legislative regulation. We need to find pragmatic solutions to some of the problems we are facing,” she said.
Watch: behind the daily struggle of Hong Kong bus drivers
Bus driver unions have called for shorter shifts and higher salaries as a way to change a workforce is overworked and suffers from manpower shortages as well as low morale.
Most drivers have been forced to do excessive overtime shifts to make ends meet, the unions said.
On Monday, the Transport Department pledged to review guidelines for drivers of franchised bus companies.
Chinese University of Hong Kong economist Professor Chong Tai-leung called for a government-mandated wage floor to be set for franchised bus company drivers.
He said the problem of low wages could not be solved by the market or collective bargaining because of a lack of competition. NWS Holdings owns the city’s two main operators, Citybus and New World First Bus.
“It means the two companies will not be as aggressive in competing for drivers. Drivers do not have much of a choice,” said Chong, a member of the Transport Advisory Committee.
KMB, which operates buses mainly in Kowloon, New Territories and cross harbour routes, offers higher wages and more benefits, but vacancies were limited and requirements generally higher, making it hard for Citybus and New World First Bus drivers to switch over easily, Chong said.
He said the government should implement a central licensing system for franchise bus drivers with strict qualification requirements as well as a minimum wage for the industry. This would require companies to hire and attract only well-qualified drivers.
Maximum working hours should also be lowered from the current level of 14 hours per day to 12.
“This would lower the supply of drivers, push up average wages and ensure the quality of drivers is higher,” Chong said.
Meanwhile, Lam also commented on the city’s housing crisis before the cabinet meeting.
When asked if she would use converted containers for transitional housing, Lam said she had been looking for a better solution to the housing problem since she took office in July.
“The housing problem cannot be solved in a short period of time, but the government is trying everything possible as to relieve the shortage of housing,” she said.
She said while some people may think the containers were inadequate and useless, the government was willing to consider any measures to solve the issue.
Lam also called on the public to give their opinion to the task force on land supply to build consensus on the issue.