Hong Kong railway unions threaten industrial action if MTR workers do not get pay rises of 7 to 8 per cent
Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions asks government to step in and fight for employees’ interests
Railway workers have threatened to take industrial action if their pay demands are not met and asked the Hong Kong government to intervene on their behalf with the MTR Corporation.
The pro-government Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions, which represents 4,000 MTR workers in four unions, warned on Monday that it could call on employees to work to rule by refusing to do overtime if they did not receive a 7 to 8 per cent pay increase in the summer.
That came after union representatives met Undersecretary for Transport and Housing Raymond So Wai-man to discuss the pay demands for the more than 17,000 MTR employees in Hong Kong.
Federation vice-chairman Tam Kin-chiu said So would report back to Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan, who as a board member of the MTR Corp was expected to reflect the unions’ demands to the company.
“This is the first time we have asked the government to step in,” he said.
The rail operator, which recorded a 64 per cent rise in net profit last year to HK$16.8 billion (US$2.14 billion), was expected to announce its annual pay review in July.
“The government is the MTR Corp’s biggest shareholder, holding 75 per cent of its shares. If there are any rail incidents in July, this government, represented by Chan, should be held accountable by the public,” Tam said.
“Therefore we hope that Chan can fight for our interests with the board.
“We are very keen and firm this year as over the past 10 years the annual pay rise has stayed close to the inflation level at a few per cent. It means that after offsetting inflation, MTR staff have not [in real terms] had any increase in all these years. But the company has reaped over HK$10 billion in net profit every year.”
If the MTR did not address their demands, Tam said the unions would call on members to refuse to work overtime.
“We don’t want to affect the rail service or inconvenience the public. But if our dedicated efforts over all these years are not truly reflected and we are forced to take this action, we hope the public will understand our grievances,” he said.
The federation estimated that the MTR’s 2,000 train drivers had worked several million overtime sessions last year.
“The amount of overtime work has been staggering because we are constantly short of train drivers while the company has kept on introducing rail lines and more frequent services,” he said.
Tam said the starting salary for a train driver was only HK$14,350 a month, much lower than the average pay of about HK$18,000 in the transport sector.
“It’s a shame that for many rail drivers who have worked for the MTR for about 10 years their monthly pay is still less than HK$17,000.”
Last month the rail operator announced it would add an extra 238 train trips per week to the Tsuen Wan, Kwun Tong and Island lines. Train service delivery and passenger journeys on time remained at 99.9 per cent last year.
The unions also demanded that the overnight allowance be restored to the 2003 pre-Sars level – 50 per cent of an employee’s daily pay – from the current 35 per cent.
A spokesman for the Transport and Housing Bureau late on Monday said So had passed on the unions’ view to Chan and the corporation.
An MTR spokesman said the annual pay review would take into account many factors, including the pay trend survey results of 30 employers, the company’s financial performance and employee contributions.
“The pay review is still going on and we will have a final decision in July,” he said.
The spokesman said the MTR would continue to consult employees including the unions. “We met with some union representatives early this month … we will also hold regular meetings with various unions later on.”