Hong Kong bus union slams import of mainland Chinese drivers

A government transport official has urged bus unions “to stay calm” and not take industrial action after unionists slammed the import of mainland Chinese workers, concerned the move would set a precedent and affect the jobs of local bus drivers.

Buses outside department store Sogo in Causeway Bay. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Citybus Limited earlier said it will take on 20 drivers from the mainland following approval from the authorities. The company said the move would alleviate a consistent driver shortage and the imported labour would only be deployed for non-franchised services.

But the city’s bus unions said they were outraged by the move and urged the company to raise salaries and benefits for local bus drivers before bringing in non-local labour.

See also: Hong Kong has a labour shortage? At what price?

Amy Tse, the assistant commissioner for bus and railway at the Transport Department, told a radio program on Friday that the transport sector had been undergoing severe labour shortages and the import of non-local drivers could help maintain the reliability of public transportation.

“We hope the unions will understand and stay calm, the scheme does not aim to replace them, but only aims to mitigate the manpower shortage,” she told RTHK in Cantonese.

Road traffic in Hong Kong. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.Road traffic in Hong Kong. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Road traffic in Hong Kong. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The official added that authorities have a strict vetting scheme before approving plans to import non-local labour, as well as monitoring mechanisms to ensure they do not take up employment on franchised bus routes.

According to the government’s labour importation scheme, launched last June, imported bus drivers are only allowed to operate non-franchised services, such as employee or resident shuttles.

‘Going back on their word’

But Lai Siu-chung of the Motor Transport Workers General Union criticised the government for “going back on their word” as he cited a meeting with the city’s transport and labour officials at the legislature in August last year.

“At the time [officials] immediately stopped me from asking and said bus operators would not be allowed to import labour,” Lai said in Cantonese. “Because they are providing franchised services under government subsidies.”

“I also told officials if, one day, non-local labours are imported, unions won’t be playing nice,” he added. “Some heads must fall.”

Speaking on the same radio program, the unionist said non-local drivers might not adapt to driving in Hong Kong, raising concerns about road safety under the plan. Citybus have said the new hires would take local road tests before entering service.

Citybus of Hong KongCitybus of Hong Kong
Citybus of Hong Kong. File photo: Wikimedia Commons via Patrickcheung10.

He also said the local workforce was abundant and accused employers – including Citybus – of creating making exploitative working conditions that led to a high turnover rate.

“Since the pandemic, Citybus have used an hourly wage system… Drivers get no salary during their time for meal and toilet breaks,” he said.

Citybus said on Thursday it had provided a bonus of up to HK$30,000 for newly-employed bus drivers that was exclusive to local workers, and that its wage hikes were above 4 per cent – leading other operators – over the past two years.

The company affirmed that the newly-imported drivers would not drive on its close to 300 franchised bus routes.

Hong Kong has been importing non-local workers in a bid to alleviate a shortage of labour, including in the construction, transport and health sectors. But labour groups have criticised the move as bypassing the scrutiny of union leaders and ignoring the concerns of local workers.

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