Kowloon Motor Bus Company (KMB) has halted its decision to fire four drivers who participated in a recent strike, following an outcry.

The decision was announced at around 4am on Wednesday after KMB management held an emergency meeting with the protesting drivers.

Yip Wai-lam, her husband, and two other drivers were initially fired citing section 7 of the Employment Ordinance. Yip had planned to register the newly-established Alliance of Monthly-Paid Bus Drivers as a labour union at the Labour Department, after calling for a strike demanding better treatment for drivers in the aftermath of the fatal Tai Po crash, which left 19 dead.

KMB Yip Wai-lam
Yip Wai-lam (centre) at KMB depot. Photo: In-Media.

KMB said individual staff members severely violated rules when on duty and left their posts or stopped driving without authorisation, causing a threat to passenger safety and other road users. The company decided to carry out disciplinary action and moved to terminate their employment.

Dozens of members of the public and activists went to KMB’s depot on Stonecutters Island to show their support for Yip. They staged a sit-in at the depot and called for other KMB drivers to join in. Buses could not enter the depot during the demonstration.

KMB had arranged for staff members to form a human chain to block protesters from entering.

‘Justice and truth’

At around 2am on Wednesday, the bus firm’s management agreed to meet with Yip for an hour. She was told that the four could take back their staff identity cards.

“Justice will last and truth will be supported,” Yip said.

Lam Tsz-ho, deputy head of KMB’s communications and public affairs department, said the decision was made after the drivers appealed against the sacking through an existing mechanism.

KMB Yip Wai-lam
Photo: In-Media.

After she initially learnt she would be fired, Yip handed over her staff ID but said she was unable to accept the company’s reasoning and refused to sign their document.

Her employment was set to end on Wednesday with a payment of HK$76,000, which included wages in lieu of notice and long service payments.

KMB had promised the drivers involved would not be sacked. Asked on Tuesday if it was a case of revenge over the strike, Yip said: “I believe you can all see for yourself.”

“I naively hoped that the company will listen to our voices,” she added. “My mission is done, I have no regrets in that I have done something for justice… The only thing I feel sad over is that other colleagues were affected as well.”

KMB bus driver strike
A bus participating in the strike. File Photo: In-Media.

Yip’s strike – which she claimed a dozen joined – was sparked after she criticised KMB for making a deal with a union under the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) to approve a controversial new wage package, though the firm did not consult other unions. A top member of the FTU union has said Yip’s strike was a “one-person strike” and he would not join the “foolish” action.

Public outcry

After news of her sacking emerged, FTU lawmaker Michael Luk and by-election candidate Bill Tang condemned KMB in a video. However, the clip was soon removed.

KMB’s Facebook page – which had not posted anything since the accident last month – posted a comic that said “the city cannot stop when so many people have to go to school and work,” as its mascot was told it should take some rest, apparently in reference to the strike.

More than 16,000 people left “angry” emojis and thousands criticised the company in the post.

【九巴仔的日常- 城市要Go On】溝通係需要花時間嘅,而返工返學就需要趕時間嘅。 #九巴仔的日常 #KMBBoy #九巴仔站助日記

Posted by KMB 九巴專頁 on Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Several pro-democracy parties criticised KMB’s decision.

In a statement, the Labour Party said it was a “blatant suppression of labour movement.” It said Yip only wished KMB to improve treatment of drivers to resolve the issue of traffic safety.

“But KMB made mistake after mistake – it not only refused to directly face the issues causing the traffic accident, but also silenced staff members who made suggestions – it is shameful,” the party said.

KMB Yip Wai-lam
Photo: In-Media.

Other by-election candidates in New Territories East include Gary Fan, Nelson Wong, Christine Fong, Estella Chan and Joyce Chiu.

Not-for-profit, run by journalists and completely independent. Contribute to our critical month-long HK$1m Funding Drive, help safeguard our independence and secure our operations for another year. Read how carefully we spend every cent in our Annual/Transparency Report.

2018 hkfp promo (2)

[give_goal id=”150839″ show_text=”true” show_bar=”true”]

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.