Date
23 May 2018
The KMB staff union contends that the real problem facing the public transport industry is not manpower shortage but unattractive remuneration that results in high turnover rate. Photo: Internet
The KMB staff union contends that the real problem facing the public transport industry is not manpower shortage but unattractive remuneration that results in high turnover rate. Photo: Internet

Tai Po tragedy fuels debate on driver shortage, foreign workers

As Hong Kong people raise questions about last weekend’s deadly bus crash in Tai Po, some groups from within the transport sector are saying the tragic incident highlights the need for authorities to bring in foreign drivers to resolve the issue of manpower shortage in the industry.

Pointing out the fact that the person behind the wheel at the KMB double-decker bus involved in Saturday’s accident was a part-time driver, some transport sector unions have called on the government to expand its foreign worker importation policy so as to include drivers.   

The Public Omnibus Operators Association, the Motor Transport Workers General Union, the Taxi Drivers & Operators Association, the Hong Kong Scheduled (GMB) Licensee Association, and the Association for Taxi Industry Development said on Tuesday that the Tai Po tragedy, which claimed 19 lives, serves as a reminder of the problems facing the public transport labor market.

In a joint statement, the groups said a key issue plaguing the industry is rising personnel turnover, which has led to a shortage of skilled and qualified drivers and other staff.

The number of people working in the market, including drivers and maintenance workers, has dropped to about 180,000 in the 2011-15 period, from about 200,000 in the period from 1991 to 2008, the groups said in the statement, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Claiming that the number dwindled mainly because drivers were getting old while young people were unwilling to take up the work, the groups said the government should extend its foreign labor policy to introduce workers from overseas countries as drivers.

Such move can help shrink the manpower shortage and support the development of the public transport industry, they said.

In other comments, the groups called on the government to provide free pre-job training for those who want to enter the industry.

The suggestion to bring in foreign drivers was met with fierce criticism from some people within their own industry. 

Objecting to the suggestion, Kwok Wai-kwong, vice chairman of the K.M.B. Staff Union, slammed the groups that issued the statement, saying they were trying to take advantage of an unfortunate accident.

The real problem that needs to be addressed is not manpower shortage but unattractive remuneration that results in high turnover rate and discourages people from enlisting as drivers, Kwok said.

HKEJ also cited a taxi driver as saying that he is against the idea of bringing in foreign drivers.

If foreign drivers are allowed in, it will only intensify competition for the existing drivers who have already been facing tough times, he said.

The person also argued that foreign drivers won’t be familiar with local roads and may also lack proper driving skills.

Frankie Yick Chi-ming, chairman of the Legislative Council’s transport panel, said he supports hiring foreign drivers, calling Singapore a good example as the city-state has already had about one million foreign drivers, including some from China.

Foreign drivers can first only be employed by green minibuses that offer scheduled services if Hongkongers have concern, Yick said.

In other news related to Saturday’s tragedy, 36 out of the more than 60 people injured in the crash remained hospitalized as of early Wednesday morning, with six of them still in critical condition.

A Fanling Magistrates’ court on Tuesday rejected the bail application of the driver of the route 872 KMB bus, a person surnamed Chan, who has been charged with dangerous driving causing death. The prosecution said he might face a more serious charge.

A hearing is scheduled for April 10, pending reports of inspections on the bus and examination of dashcam footage.

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TL/JC/RC

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