24 March 2019
A deadly bus accident last Friday has led to questions as to whether the driver slipped up due to overwork. Photo: Xinhua
A deadly bus accident last Friday has led to questions as to whether the driver slipped up due to overwork. Photo: Xinhua

Fatal bus crash a wake-up call on issue of working hours

The deadly bus crash in Sham Shui Po last Friday evening that killed three and injured 30 has sparked concern that the existing guidelines on the standard working hours of bus drivers may be too loose, so much so they are putting passengers and other road users at risk.

According to the Guidelines on Bus Captain Working Hours, Rest Times and Meal Breaks issued by the Transport Department, maximum duty (including all rest times) in a working day for bus drivers should not exceed 14 hours, and their driving duty (that is, maximum duty less all rest times of 30 minutes or more each) in a working day should not exceed 11 hours.

While working 14 hours a day might be the upper limit set by the government, the reality is that it has actually become the norm with many bus drivers in the city.

Many of the bus drivers, in fact, work overtime on a regular or even daily basis since their basic monthly salaries are so low.

For example, according to Citybus, the bus captain involved in last Friday’s fatal crash had already been working more than 13 hours daily for several days in a row before the accident took place.

Such practice calls into serious question whether the existing policy can truly guarantee that the bus drivers are always in good shape when they are on duty.

As such, we agree with the unions that the government should immediately reduce the current cap on their standard working hours and strictly enforce it.

In fact we believe that not only should the government regulate the standard working hours of bus drivers, it should also seriously study the feasibility of putting a legal cap on the standard working hours of employees in other “high-risk” industries that involve public safety.

While our society might remain split over whether the government should impose universal standard working hours on all industries since it could give rise to a lot of technical problems, we are quite certain that there shouldn’t be too much controversy over legislating for standard working hours that are tailor-made for some high-risk trades in order to further ensure public safety.

When attending a Wan Chai District Council meeting last week, Commissioner for Labor Carlson Chan Ka-shun pledged that the government would facilitate discussion among employers and employees over the standard working hours in certain industries and the overtime compensation policies.

We sincerely hope the administration can learn the painful lesson of the fatal bus crash last week and take up the issue promptly and seriously as it has promised.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 26

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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