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Transport and logistics

4,000 Hong Kong bus drivers will work to rule, and that could mean chaos for commuters

Discontent arises from Transport Department decision to revise work hours guidelines

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 6:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 6:01am

Hong Kong commuters have been urged to set off early on Friday morning, as an estimated 4,000 bus drivers will join a work-to-rule action in protest at a government decision resulting in maximum work hours being cut with no compensation.

Sources familiar with the situation said the Transport Department had lobbied protest organiser the Federation of Bus Industry Trade Unions – which represents about 2,000 drivers from the city’s three largest franchised bus companies, KMB, Citybus and New World First Bus – but to no avail.

Federation chairman Sze Man-wai said drivers had no choice but to stick to work rules as the department failed to show any intention to discuss a working hours guideline it announced in February.

The federation had asked whether the department would discuss its request to make the lost work hours payable, and when such discussions would take place.

“The department has been wishy-washy,” Sze said on Thursday.

“We have not been so tough on it, but it just won’t give us a clear answer on what we are asking for – a schedule to discuss our request.”

Shorter hours on the road for 13,000 Hong Kong bus drivers after Tai Po crash but union worries about lower pay

The work-to-rule is due to begin with the first buses of the day and will run until 10am. Drivers will not drop off or pick up passengers before their vehicles are completely in the designated areas of bus stops. Oversized or overweight luggage will not be allowed on buses. And during busy hours, when the number of standing passengers means some stray over the yellow lines next to the driver’s seat, drivers on overloaded vehicles will refuse to continue their journeys.

Bus stops at the entrance of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel in Hung Hom are likely to be worst affected.

The federation expected about 4,000 drivers to take part in the action.

The department appealed to the drivers to remain rational and exercise restraint while striving for their labour rights, and to maintain proper bus services. It urged commuters to set off earlier than usual.

A spokeswoman for sister companies New World First Bus and Citybus said they would deploy extra frontline staff at major bus stops for coordination. They also appealed to bus drivers to show professionalism and avoid affecting commuters.

The discontent arose from the department’s decision to revise the working hours guidelines after one of the deadliest bus crashes in Hong Kong’s history. A KMB double-decker flipped on its side in Tai Po days before the Lunar New Year, killing 19 passengers and injuring 67.

Hong Kong bus drivers plan work-to-rule over Transport Department’s failure to remove guidelines that can lead to 14-hour shifts

Sze, a driver for KMB, said a key part of the guideline reduced maximum daily duty hours from 14 to 12, and lowered driving hours from 11 to 10, which would effectively reduce salaries.

“A large portion of our pay is based on overtime compensation,” he said. “We will be better off if KMB does something to make the work hours that have gone payable.”

The federation earlier said that another part of the guideline – “special shifts” allowing drivers to work up to 14 hours a day, which would remain in place with a mandatory three-hour break in between – should have been axed. It feared drivers could still be overworked.

KMB Employees Union chairman Kwok Chi-shing said his 900-strong group would support the work-to-rule and warned that those who did not take part effectively breached bus regulations.

“We will report the rule breakers to the police if they don’t strictly follow regulations,” Kwok said.

We will report the rule breakers to the police if they don’t strictly follow regulations
Kwok Chi-shing, chairman of KMB Employees Union 

Meanwhile, his union, one of six labour groups representing KMB workers, called for a pay rise of up to 27 per cent for drivers working 10 hours a day, to HK$23,000 (US$2,930) a month. It also asked for an assessment-based allowance to be turned into a regular payment.

The Motor Transport Workers General Union, KMB Branch, the bus firm’s largest labour group with 8,000 drivers, called for an 8 per cent rise.

Union director Lai Siu-chung said KMB promised a pay rise and would consider turning a six-monthly performance-based allowance into a regular payment.

A KMB spokesman said the company would consider a number of factors, such as market conditions and inflation, when reviewing salaries. It pledged to listen to employees’ views before announcing any arrangement.