|▲ PHOTOGRAPHED BY KIM BO-DAM
AFTER THE horrendous bus crash that killed 2 people and injured 16 others in the Gyeong-bu highway on July 9, there has been a rising public interest in the unfavorable working conditions of bus drivers. Many have argued that poor working conditions have contributed to these accidents. They point out that the grueling working schedule leaves little time for sleep or rest that is critical for a driver to stay alert on the road. Therefore, the government should intervene and enact new regulations that improve these conditions. Others say that contrary to popular belief, bus drivers do in fact have good working conditions. As such, government regulations are unnecessary and will impose heavy costs on bus companies.
Which side is right? Is the working environment for the bus drivers really poor? Is the government really providing the proper regulations to the bus drivers? To answer this question, we must first examine the working conditions themselves.
The bus operating system of South Korea differs from region to region and company to company. Nonetheless, the general system is based on working every other day. According to the Seoul Labor Center, town drivers, who drive their buses just inside Seoul, work six days a week and nine hours a day. City bus drivers, who connect from one city to the other, work five days a week, eight hours a day. The bus drivers in Gyeonggi-do mostly work every other day, 18 hours a day. Working up to 18 hours is allowed by the current law. According to the article 59 of the Labor Standards Act, workers are allowed to work overtime 12 hours a week. In addition, 8 hours of continuous rest after a day of driving and a minimum of 10 minutes of rest after a single run is ensured by the Passenger Transport Service Act.
Many social activists have denounced these existing regulations as inadequate. On a press release from Korean Automobile & Transport Workers Federation on July, Ryu Keun-jung (Chairman, Korean Automobile & Transport Workers Federation) stated that the accident in Gyeong-bu highway was a man-made disaster. He espoused that only by improving working conditions can there be less accidents. Others have pointed out that while the 8 hours of mandated rest sounds good in theory, it does not work well in practice as this duration often encompasses commutes and the time it takes to fall asleep. For example, according to a work log released by the bus company after the accident, the bus driver in the recent Gyeong-bu highway accident drove for 16.5 hours on July 8, finishing driving by 11:30 p.m. It took him after midnight to leave the terminal. The driver came back to the bus terminal at 6:30 a.m. the next day, and started driving at 7:15 a.m. It is believed that the absolute sleep time was less than six hours once the time it took to commute both ways and fall sleep were factored in. Many drivers face similar problems. They work for 18 hours a day, so their sleep time will be less than six hours a day, which is definitely a short amount of time to relieve fatigue. Heavy traffic makes the problem of long hours even worse. During an interview with *The Yonsei Annals*, Lee Jung-wan (Bus driver, M4101 line) informed that there is about 10-15 minutes of transit time per line, but it can go higher during rush hour. This cuts down rest time for the drivers.
In another interview with the *Annals*, an anonymous bus driver detailed his working schedule. “Mostly we sleep two to three hours a day. Five hours of sleep is a lot. The basic schedule is to start driving at 6 a.m., working until 11 p.m. It is also normal to have additional hours. It doesn’t matter whether it is weekdays or weekends, but we just have to follow what the company says.” According to a survey by the Seoul Labor Center, 67.9% of the bus drivers are not satisfied with their working hours. The same survey also said 45.4% of them are not satisfied with the way the company treats their workers.
The *Annals* reached out to Gyeong-nam Transportation Company for an interview, but they declined to comment.
Minjoo Party legislators have proposed amending the Passenger Transport Service Act to extend the continuous rest hours from eight hours to ten. The current act allows bus drivers to exceed 12 hours of working time by a special clause. The legislators are trying to eliminate this clause and guarantee enough rest time for the bus drivers. The legislators are also trying to amend Article 59 of the Labor Standards Act. This act allows the workers to overwork in case of 26 classified industries. The legislators agreed to cut down the number of such industries to ten. The transportation business is not included in these ten industries, so the bus drivers will not be able to overwork anymore.
Others have proposed the adoption of a semi-public bus system to improve working conditions. Under such a system, operational authority is shared between the local government and the bus company. The former could now mandate the company to improve the conditions of their drivers or even hire new ones, in exchange for public subsidies if the company loses too much money.
Seoul was the first city to adopt a semi-public system in 2004. It spread to Busan, Daejeon, Daegu, Gwangju, and Incheon shortly thereafter. However, some argue that any solutions from the government will do more harm than good. According to Lee, most of the bus drivers drive their buses six times a day. It usually takes two hours for the M4101 line to finish one line. So, the practical working hours are 12 hours a day, with four hours of additional break time.
Semi-public bus systems have also been criticized for lowering the quality of company management and thereby increasing costs. According to the press release from Seoul, the city pays out \250 billion per year to 65 bus companies.
There are still ongoing arguments about the working conditions of bus drivers, but experts on both sides agree on one thing: the recruiting standard for drivers should be higher. Current requirements differ from companies to companies but they generally all require three things. First, the driver must have a Type 1 license for a truck or bus. Second, the driver must be over 20, and should have driven for at least one year after obtaining the license. Third, the bus driver must pass the aptitude test provided by the government. These three standards are too weak for a job of carrying thousands of people every day. Companies should be providing additional training that emphasizes the danger of reckless driving. Proper techniques on changing lanes and braking should be taught.
* * *
Bus drivers are essential to people, especially in today’s commuting society. Bus drivers themselves should be proud of their job as they have the responsibility of handling thousands of lives. The bus company should guarantee enough recess and should do their best for the workers’ welfare. The government should come out of the desk and start researching what is truly needed in the field. By this way, safe condition both for the passengers and the drivers will be created.