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Hong Kong’s Citybus union threatens to sue company over ‘discriminatory’ policy reducing bonus of drivers with more sick leave

Group says policy goes against passenger safety as drivers should never work if they feel unwell, and should not be questioned if they can produce medical proof

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2018, 7:00am

A Citybus staff union has threatened legal action against the Hong Kong transport operator over a policy to deduct the year-end bonus of drivers who take more sick leave.

“This is discriminatory in nature. We are now looking for representative cases and may sue Citybus for breaching the discrimination law,” said Henry Hui Hon-kit, chairman of Citybus Employees Union.

The move came despite Citybus and New World First Bus – which are both under NWS Holdings – announcing on Tuesday a pay rise of 5 per cent for staff from January 1 this year retroactively.

Frontline staff and full-time bus drivers will see a minimum wage rise of HK$1,100, while new drivers will have an increase in basic salary of 7.2 per cent.

“With the year-end special bonus, on average a newly recruited driver can earn about HK$22,986 (US$2,930) monthly,” the bus operators said in a statement.

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In a bid to increase staff welfare, the companies said the annual special bonus for employees – amounting to one month’s salary – would not take into account work performance, while age restrictions would be removed for free bus passes given to family members of employees.

Hui said the pay rise still fell short of the union’s expectation of at least HK$18,000 in monthly basic salary, with the adjustments only taking the mark to about HK$16,500.

“We are not satisfied with the average pay rise. It is barely acceptable considering the record-high 7.2 per cent rise for new drivers,” he said.

He added that the 5 per cent pay rise for existing staff was in line with that proposed by KMB – the city’s largest bus operator – for its workers.

However, he took aim at the “discriminatory” policy by Citybus on year-end bonuses.

“When an employee takes more than 12 days of sick leave, their bonus will be deducted according to the number of remaining sick leave,” he said. “We are very offended by this policy which shows elements of discrimination against the disabled.”

We are very offended by this policy which shows elements of discrimination against the disabled
Henry Hui, union head

He said it was very dangerous for drivers who felt unwell to get behind the wheel, as passenger safety was paramount.

“Despite our protest against this policy for many years, our voices fell on deaf ears. It shows that our company really dislikes staff taking sick leave. But who likes being sick?” he asked.

In May, Samuel Cheng, managing director of Citybus and New World First Bus, gave evidence of drivers frequently calling in sick, which raised concerns they were abusing the system. Cheng was speaking at an independent review committee hearing into the regulatory framework for franchise buses.

Hui argued on Tuesday that if drivers could produce doctors’ certificates on their illnesses, then their honesty should not be questioned.

“We don’t want to have a strained relationship with our employer. But this is a matter of principle. We may take legal action if we can find good cases,” he said.

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In the May hearing, the firm also disclosed that their drivers were paid between 10 and 15 per cent less compared with 20 years ago.

A new driver’s basic salary at Citybus in March 1999 was HK$17,106 a month, while in September 1998, drivers that transferred from China Motor Bus Company to New World First Bus earned HK$18,184.

Prior to the latest review, Citybus pays new drivers HK$15,364, a 10 per cent drop, while New World First Bus also pays the same amount, or 15 per cent less from previous levels.

In 2017, Citybus recorded a profit of HK$84 million, while New World First Bus announced a profit of HK$77 million.