KMB boosts basic pay and work terms for drivers after Hong Kong bus crash casts spotlight on their welfare
Overtime pay for full-timers will also go up, with other bus companies considering following suit, as Transport Department prepares to revise guidelines for drivers’ working hours
Hong Kong’s largest franchised bus operator has agreed to drivers’ demands for better basic pay and working conditions following a double decker crash this month that left 19 passengers dead and put the spotlight on the need to improve safety.
From next month, full-time bus drivers with KMB will be guaranteed a higher basic monthly salary of HK$15,365 (US$1,963), regardless of performance, and more overtime pay, a drivers’ union announced on Wednesday after a meeting with management.
The company has been under intense pressure to address drivers’ grievances after one of its double deckers flipped on its side in Tai Po in the city’s worst road accident in nearly 15 years. In addition to the deaths, at least 67 people were injured.
Union leaders blamed it on a lack of training for drivers and cost-cutting measures by KMB, reviving long-running concerns about an underpaid and overworked pool of 8,300 drivers. About 560 of them are part-timers, and eight out of 10 are above the age of 60, having been rehired after retirement.
Representatives of the Motor Transport Workers General Union’s KMB branch said most full-timers were already paid at least HK$15,365 a month, but HK$3,556 of that amount was bonus pay based on meeting safety and “good service” requirements, which put them under constant pressure.
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“The good service bonus covers a very wide scope of duties and hurdles. If you are deemed to be performing poorly three times, then your bonus will be deducted for that month,” unionist Lai Siu-chung said.
With the basic wage now being bumped up, overtime compensation will rise correspondingly from HK$70.9 to HK$96 per hour.
Drivers who spend more than eight hours on the road each day are entitled to overtime pay, and Lai said this meant those who worked 12-hour daily shifts would get HK$1,500 more per month.
While he welcomed KMB’s move, Lai said the union would continue pressing for better working conditions, as it was only the first time in years that the company had responded to demands for an overhaul of staff benefits.
KMB did not comment, but a source familiar with the company insisted the revisions had been planned for months and had nothing to do with the accident.
The source said support staff would also be offered better terms, and with the pay rises, drivers and technicians on average would get 6.8 per cent more each month.
The move is expected to cost KMB an extra HK$160 million a year, but the company has not explained how it will meet the additional cost. In 2016, it reported a profit of HK$620 million.
Franchised bus operators are guaranteed a 9.7 per cent rate of return on their net fixed assets, and 50 per cent of revenue exceeding that must be ploughed back into rebates and other rewards for passengers.
The city’s largest bus operator last year had its franchise renewed until 2027, following a government review that focused mostly on service improvements and fare concessions, but not the welfare of drivers.
Lawmaker Chan Han-pan, who sits on the Legislative Council’s transport panel, was hopeful that the pay rise would help attract more people to the industry, which is facing a chronic manpower shortage.
Citybus and New World First Bus, the city’s other major bus franchises that are both controlled by the New World Development conglomerate, said they were reviewing their almost-identical salary structure for drivers, including incorporating allowances into basic wages.
A spokesman for both firms said they would also actively follow the Transport Department’s revised guidelines on bus drivers’ working hours. The department said the review was nearly finished and results would be announced soon.
Also on Wednesday, the driver in the Tai Po crash was denied bail by Fanling Court for the second time.
Chan Ho-ming, 30, was a part-time driver who declared his occupation was a cook when he first appeared in court, after being charged with one count of dangerous driving causing death.
Prosecutors said earlier he could face more serious charges, pending further investigation and legal advice.
The case will return to court on April 10.
Additional reporting by Jasmine Siu