Sacking farce sticks KMB in PR mud

Editorial | Mary Ma 8 Mar 2018

It's pathetic watching what's unfolding at Kowloon Motor Bus.

Just as our attention was distracted by the budget's lack of cash payouts for everyone, KMB stunned us all with its decision to sack "trouble-maker" bus captain Yip Wai-lam, and three others, including her husband.

Stop telling me this wasn't an act of retaliation, brought about by a serious case of poor judgment.

KMB insisted the sackings were lawful, but trade unionists, of course, disagreed.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she's concerned about the situation, and the Labour Department was stepping in to resolve the matter.

What had happened was most likely a top-level decision, born out of anger over Yip's leadership in an earlier industrial action.

Legal or not, the sacking of an outspoken worker threatens to overshadow the real crisis facing KMB - which isn't about Yip or others in the Monthy Paid Bus Drivers Alliance - but has everything to do with the company's credibility, in the aftermath of the February 10 Tai Po bus crash that killed 19 passengers.

The 30-year-old part-time driver of the double decker was remanded in custody on February 13, on charges of dangerous driving causing death, but could face more serious manslaughter charges at his next court appearance on April 10.

Do KMB's senior management know their corporate image hangs in the balance?

Further down the road is the official inquiry ordered by Lam. Senior KMB officials can expect to be questioned on what they had done - or had failed to do - to prevent such a tragedy.

Top executives, including managing director Roger Lee Chak-cheong should know the upcoming inquiry will have serious implications on KMB, as he and his colleagues will face intensive grilling. But questions at the hearing will center on just one concern: safety.

With the summary axing of Yip's tiny group, public attention is again focused on the bus operator at a time when what it should have done was to avoid anything drastic to remind people of the horrific recent past.

This was an ill-advised management blunder. Then, within hours, the company made an abrupt U-turn, suspending the firing decision on the pretense that Yip and her colleagues are allowed to appeal it, according to an internal mechanism to review such actions.

What a joke! I wonder if the bus operator had thought things through in the first place!

Before the Tuesday sackings, the public had no sympathy for anyone at KMB - the operator having failed in its commitment to transport passengers safely, and the drivers exploiting the deaths of so many people for their self-interest, ie pay increases.

Now, sentiment seems to be shifting toward the drivers in light of the Yip episode, while the bus operator's management have provided shareholders with a sense that they're in a state of utter chaos.

Lam's reminder that there's room for improvement in KMB's handling of the matter may be mild, but was definitely a rebuke.

To paraphrase an old Chinese folk saying, the company has foolishly lifted a rock, only to drop it on its own feet.

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