By Terry Xu
Our insider source informs TOC that the strike was not a pre-meditated action by the workers but started by a few drivers who stood in front of the chartered bus that was supposed to drive the drivers to the bus depot.
The final straw came on 23rd of November when they received their pay, noticing that their pay did not reflect the proposed increment of $25.
Later, Singapore Mass Rapid Transport (SMRT) said it was finalized just last week and they were in the process of communicating this to the drivers. link
The group of drivers questioned their fellow colleagues while blocking the entrance of the bus about why they were still going to work after being treated so badly. Thisthus leadto an impromptu strike.
An earlier interview with a bus captain at the woodlands dormitory had shed some light on the factors that triggered this action taken by the drivers. He remarked that this strike was primarily due to two main issues, wages and the use of language on them.
He highlighted that though they are happy to be in Singapore, while appreciative of all that Singapore has to offer, they were unprepared to face a reality where the company pays each worker a different pay despite having the same job scope, working hours. They simply just wanted to appeal for fairness in the treatment towards them through their actions taken.
As shown in the table above, though the PRC bus drivers cannot compare themselves with the local Singaporeans. However they compared themselves with their foreign worker counterparts from Malaysia. They ask, why is there such an increase for the Malaysians while the increase for them is miserable for the same work done.
Staffs at SMRT commented that the Chinese drivers would have nothing to argue should the increase be limited only towards the Singaporeans.
The common perception that the PRC bus drivers will start to receive a yearly one-month bonus upon the completion of their two-year contract is wrong. It is in fact one-month salary worth of gratuity paid to them upon completion of their contract term.
Treatment towards PRC bus drivers
Apart from the apparent wage difference between them and the Malaysian drivers, the approach in communications with the Chinese drivers had not been much respectful, or some might even find it degrading.
According to the driver TOC spoke to, communication memos to staffs about benefits and bonus often indicate at the bottom of the message “…except PRC bus drivers”, enforcing the sense of alienation amongst the PRC bus drivers.
Why only now? Implementation of the 6 day work week
With the implementation of the six days work week [Terry can add in the month?], despite the “increase” of wages for the workers. While SMRT has allowed drivers to revert to the 5 day week, TOC was told that this is subject to approval and there are several applications pending approval. As a result, several of the bus drivers regardless of their nationality had in fact suffered a pay drop.
Bus drivers could opt to drive overtime at 1.5 times of the normal wages and 2.0 times during their off days. Now with a 6 day workweek, every driver have to work an extra day instead of being paid overtime and be deprived of the 2 times salary opportunity.
In the previous 5 days workweek, daily wages were basic pay, $1,000 divided by 22 work days. Which in the case of the PRC bus drivers, their daily wage back then was $45.45.
Whereas for the new 6 days work week, even though there is an increase of $75 to their pay. The daily wages is now $1,075 divided by 26 work days, which brings their daily wages down to $41.34.
With 1,900 bus drivers extra per week at SMRT’s disposal, there are not much slots where willing drivers could take up overtime or even slots to work during off days to earn that 2.0 times salary scale.
Not to mention losing out additional pay from public holidays and year end encashment of remaining annual leave entitled to the drivers.
In a video taken by Today, a driver asked why not give the PRC bus drivers to drive more since they are willing to do so. As highlighted to TOC by staffs from SMRT, there are simply no slots that the company could allocate to the drivers. Which eventually resulted in a drop in earnings by the drivers.
But all this does not show how poorly treated the PRC bus drivers are in terms of the wage scheme, but also highlights how Singaporean bus drivers have their earnings cut from the workday revision. For a profit-oriented company, it should be a no brainer to choose between a lesser-paid PRC bus driver to a higher paid local bus driver to work overtime.
So who is at fault?
It is impossible to deny that the bus drivers who took part in this strike are not guilty of an offence chargeable in Singapore. But can we throw all the blame to a group of foreign workers who are displeased with their wage arrangements and how they are treated?
Were there any other means of resolving their concerns and complains after failing to receive any form of assistance from their own company departments?
Singapore Bus Services (SBS) holds a much larger fleet of buses and number of bus captains, about 2.5 times more of which SMRT currently employs.
Have such issues emerged from SBS with their PRC bus drivers? If not, why? Is there any difference in treatment between the two company drivers, which could explain this phenomenon?
Why has there not been any action taken to ensure the welfare of the drivers is taken care by the related ministries apart from friendly recommendations?
Maybe some of these unresolved issues played a part in escalating this issue into the first ever strike in 25 years.
By Terry Xu