A group of KMB bus drivers participated in a three-hour strike on Saturday evening over salary reforms pledged by management in the aftermath of the fatal Tai Po crash, which left 19 dead.

During the afternoon, the newly-established Alliance of Monthly-Paid Bus Drivers called on drivers to stop their vehicles wherever they were at 8pm sharp for 30 minutes. When management initially failed to respond to demands for dialogue, the group said it would extend the industrial action until 12am.

KMB bus driver strike
Striking bus drivers in Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: In-Media.

Amid concern over the working conditions of bus drivers following the crash, the company decided to increase the base and overtime salary of its drivers. But at the same time, KMB removed commissions available for safe driving and good service, causing unions to question whether the reforms were actually improvements at all.

See also: Hong Kong Transport Dept. sets new limit of 10 hours driving per shift for bus captains after fatal crash

KMB’s human resources department circulated an internal notice prior to the strike, warning drivers not to participate: “The company will initiate serious disciplinary action against any behaviour contrary to work guidelines.”

“The company understands that employees have different opinions and doubts over the salary improvement package in recent days, but rash industrial action will negatively affect different stakeholders.”

Confiscated buses

Saturday evening’s strike was mostly limited to bus drivers at the Tsim Sha Tsui bus terminus. Alliance spokesperson Yip Wai-lam told reporters she could not estimate how many people took part elsewhere, because the vehicles of drivers who announced their intention to participate had been confiscated by the company beforehand.

KMB bus driver strike
Yip Wai-lam. Photo: In-Media.

At around 8:30pm, Yip’s own vehicle at the Tsim Sha Tsui terminus was confiscated and driven off by other KMB staff with assistance from the police. Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers such as Jeremy Tam and Lau Siu-lai then arrived on the scene to support the drivers.

“When I first started driving I was very enthusiastic,” said Yip. “I wanted to safely drive people home… But many things have caused frustration among drivers.”

She said that some better managers have been dismissed over the past year, while there was little action taken against passengers that abused and hit drivers. She added that the company “simply does not care about the feelings of its employees.”

After the confiscation of her vehicle, she said that the Alliance would go and protest at Government House – the residence of the chief executive – if management did not respond by 1am.

KMB bus driver strike
Photo: In-Media.

But at 11pm, KMB officials arrived in Tsim Sha Tsui, promising that management would meet with the Alliance to discuss their demands on Monday. The Alliance then ended the strike.

“We are very willing to listen to the demands of any employee,” KMB’s vice-head of corporate communications Addie Lam told reporters at the scene. “As for any disciplinary action, we aren’t going to discuss that at present.”

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.