The management of Kowloon Motor Bus Co. (KMB), Hong Kong’s biggest bus company, appears to have done a rethink on a plan to meet representatives of a newly-formed drivers’ group that had called for higher pay and other revised working conditions.
Following a brief strike led by a female bus driver late Saturday, KMB had agreed to meet with people from her organization to discuss the group’s demands.
However, the meeting with her group, the Alliance of Monthly-Pay Bus Drivers, which had been planned to be held on Monday, seems to have been called off.
Addie Lam, deputy head of KMB’s communications and public affairs department, said in a radio program Monday morning that the bus company will meet with and listen to opinions of employees, rather than engage with representatives of the new drivers’ group.
He justified the decision, saying talks with staff will be conducted as per the established mechanism in such cases.
Some drivers had recently formed a new group called the Alliance of Monthly-Pay Bus Drivers, calling for a hike in their basic salary, to HK$18,000, and also demanding other benefits.
Established in the wake of the deadly bus crash in Tai Po earlier this month, the Alliance sought to submit a petition at KMB’s Kowloon Bay Depot.
However, the group received no response from the management on Saturday. This prompted the group’s leader, Yip Wai-lam, to issue a call to launch a strike that night.
At 8 pm, Yip took the lead as she refused to take her bus out of the Mody Road bus terminus in Tsim Sha Tsui. She also asked the other bus drivers in the group to launch the strike, communicating with the others through the WhatsApp instant messaging tool.
Three bus drivers at the Mody Road terminus were reported to have joined the industrial action. Meanwhile, there was talk that some bus drivers in other districts like Mei Foo and Sha Tin had also followed suit, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
According to Kwok Chi-shing, who chairs a KMB workers’ union, about 200 drivers joined the action led by Yip, including some drivers in Tai Po and Sheung Shui.
The strike lasted about three hours until 11 pm, when Yip decided to call it off after she claimed she was told by KMB management that they are ready to meet with a group representative on Monday.
But since then, the management appears to have had a change in strategy, going by the comments of KMB’s Lam on a radio program early Monday.
After the tragic incident in Tai Po on Feb. 10, when a KMB double-decker bus operated by a part-time driver flipped on its side and killed 19 people and injured some 60 others, KMB suspended the work of part-time drivers.
Later, on Wednesday last week, it said that prize money will become part of the regular drivers’ basic salary, which will go up to HK$15,000 from HK$11,000 as a result.
But the offer failed to satisfy the drivers, with the newly formed Alliance calling for an adjustment in their basic pay to HK$18,000 along with other benefits.
Yip decided not to attend the meeting with the employer on Monday, criticizing the company for only being willing to meet with her as an individual staff, but not recognizing the alliance.
According to some reports, Yip was taken off driving duties on Sunday following the strike the previous night.
KMB, however, stressed that Yip has not been suspended. She was just given some rest as she may have become too exhausted due to the strike, it said, adding that Yip would get paid and that she will resume work on Tuesday.
In a statement, the bus operator said the arrangements it proposed can lead to an extra spending of more than HK$160 million and benefit about 10,000 frontline workers.
The proposal has won support from the big union that represents more than 90 percent of its workers, it said, adding that the plan will take effect in June without affecting this year’s pay raise plan.
Returning to Yip, KMB said it will send a representative to meet with the driver on Monday as the company attaches great importance to communicating with every staff member.
As for Saturday’s strike, the company claimed that most of its routes operated normally.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung urged both sides to resolve their differences through talks.
In related news, a group formed by some 70 part-time drivers on Sunday called on KMB to permit them to resume work by reversing the firm’s earlier decision to ban all of them from working.
At a news conference, the group said it is unfair to punish all the part-time drivers just because one of them was involved in a crash.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Chong
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