Kowloon Motor Bus Co. (KMB), Hong Kong’s biggest bus operator, suspended its decision to sack four drivers following a protest at its Lai Chi Kok depot on Tuesday night.
Pan-democratic political parties and members of the public joined KMB drivers and other union members in the protest, forming a crowd of around 200 at the terminus as of 10 p.m., the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
In a surprise move on Tuesday evening, KMB announced that it had decided to take disciplinary action against four drivers who left their posts last month without permission, saying that their walkout not only violated company rules but also constituted a threat to the bus passengers’ safety.
However, the bus operator suspended its decision after an emergency meeting with the protesting drivers in the early hours of Wednesday.
The four drivers included Yip Wai-lam, who had formed a new group called Alliance of Monthly-Pay Bus Drivers which initiated the strike, and her husband Lau Cheuk-hang.
On Feb. 24, at around 8 p.m., Yip led the strike by refusing to take her bus out of the terminus on Mody Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. She also asked fellow drivers to join her in the walkout, which reportedly saw a number of participants.
The strike lasted about three hours until 11 p.m., when Yip decided to call it off after she claimed she was told by KMB management that they were ready to meet with a group representative on Monday.
After the meeting, Yip called off all planned industrial actions as she said the alliance was very happy management has given a positive response to their three demands, including scrapping an annual performance appraisal, which drivers said was putting them under too much pressure.
Kwok Chi-shing, who chairs a KMB workers’ union, said management had pledged not to act against the drivers who had participated in the strike, but later sacked four of them.
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions also lashed out at KMB for sacking the four drivers, saying management was engaging in white terror.
At a press conference held after the sackings, Yip showed media her termination letter, which she said did not clearly cite the reasons for the company decision, although it said she would receive HK$76,806.85 as advance notice and reimbursement based on the Employment Ordinance.
She said she refused to sign a receipt for the letter, adding that she did not regret her action and would seek legal opinion on whether her sacking was justified.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who is the deputy chairman of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Transport, was worried that the incident may worsen labor-management relations at KMB and therefore he wanted the panel to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.
In response to media inquiries, the Labour Department said it is trying to understand the incident, adding that what is most important to determine is the actual reason for the sackings.
The department noted that an employer can be prosecuted for firing employees who are only exercising their union rights.
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