The Online Citizen

SMRT Drivers: We are frustrated by NTUC’s incompetency

SMRT Drivers: We are frustrated by NTUC’s incompetency
October 01
14:18 2012

By Kumaran Pillai

It is the job of the unions to help the poor employees. But, in Singapore, our unions are turned on their head and they are remarkably unique – they side the employers and in this case, they have caved in to the demands of the corporation, leaving the local Singaporean drivers in despair. The drivers are left with only one option – seeking legal redress over the National Trade Union Congress’s (NTUC) inability to negotiate a favourable deal, loss of income and for the “lack of consideration made to a crucial aspect to the new terms of employment.”

On Friday 28th September, responding to a query from The Online Citizen, the NTUC announced that they have negotiated for the reinstatement of the five day workweek (without the pay adjustment) which will only come into effect in January 2013. Drivers can opt to revert back to the old scheme starting this month. One SMRT driver, however, has reacted negatively to this:

SMRT also denied the driver’s annual increment, so a win situation for SMRT, all the things that the drivers did like writing to newspaper and labour minister [have been in vain]. ~ SMRT Driver

Allegations that the union short changed the drivers

On 8th August 2012, a group of SMRT drivers petitioned the Union Chief Lim Swee Say demanding reinstatement of their previous five day workweek and salary package. Their negotiations have reached a stalemate.

I spoke to three drivers from SMRT on the 25th of September and they tell the same story that they have taken a forced pay cut since May 2012. According to the drivers, the Secretary General and Executive Committee of NTUC agreed with SMRT Management to accept the unfavourable proposal. Under the new scheme, the drivers said that they have been taking home about $400 – $500 less each month. It is estimated that each driver will lose in excess of $3500 in earnings from May to December 2012.

The union and SMRT assured us that there will be not reduction in gross salary (take home pay) now instead of 16% pay rise it’s a 16% pay reduction in gross salary which means we drivers were conned ~ SMRT Driver

All their attempts to negotiate a fair wage have come to a naught. The drivers have also petitioned the Prime Minister, who then referred the drivers to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). The MOM in turn referred them to the Land Transport Authority (LTA), only for LTA to bounce this matter back to MOM. After six weeks, they are back to where they started – MOM has referred this back to NTUC.

All negotiations with SMRT’s HR have failed as well. In a closed door meeting with the SMRT drivers, the Senior Operations Manager of SMRT told the drivers, “You can resign and go to SBS.”

One name kept coming up all too often – Ong Ye Kung, the Deputy Secretary General of NTUC. He was tasked to handle this case despite the fact that he serves as an independent director of SMRT’s board. The drivers are particularly angry with Ong for “short selling” them and spoke irately about his conflict of interests. Amidst this controversy, Ong announced that he is resigning his post as Deputy Secretary General on the 26th of September. In a Facebook message he said, “That’s not really the reason for my decision,” meaning this row with SMRT drivers has got nothing to do with his resignation or next career move.

A person with significant level of education would never commit this kind of mistake unknowingly, the only reason for him [Ong] to do so was because he is also a member in the board of director in SMRT, funny right? Obviously there’s a conflict of interest in the two positions that he holds and thus what position did he use or was thinking as when he accepted the package which he openly published in the papers saying he successfully negotiated the package for the driver’s. ~ SMRT Driver

The drivers are convinced that this new scheme favours the “hardworking foreign workers.” They are certain that their positions will be filled by cheaper PRC drivers who are ever ready to take up these jobs. “Resigning is not an option. Besides, we are not sure if SBS will take us,” said one driver.

The most vocal driver was approached by union staff, on the quiet, for a similar position in SBS with a “better pay package.” He has turned down their offer because that offer was made exclusively to him and not for the rest of the local drivers.

This is only part of the story, on 3rd of September, in another TOC article we wrote about how SMRT drivers were subject to long working hours and that SMRT is in breach of labour laws.

According to the drivers, they planned to organize a strike in 2006 over another impasse. However, a last minute deal was made and the strike was called off.  It seems like the drivers have formed their own group doing the job of the union and it looks like they are determined about what they want. Unless they can reach an agreement quickly, legal action against NTUC by the drivers may be their only option this time around.  “This tiger,” referring to Lim Swee Say, “has no teeth,” SMRT driver expressed his disappointment over the deadlock.