Hougang Central Bus Interchange on a cloudy day. It is located directly above Hougang MRT Station. The bus interchange was planned to be an integrated transport hub (Photo by Kae Lee from Shutterstock.com)

Five bus drivers file lawsuits against SBS Transit over wage dispute

Five bus drivers have filed separate lawsuits against public transport operator SBS Transit Ltd over a wage dispute concerning overtime pay.

In a writ of summons filed by lawyer M Ravi last Fri (20 Sep) and seen by TOC today (23 Sep), the bus drivers, who have been working for SBS Transit between three years to a decade, alleged that the company has “breached the term of the contract on overtime pay and have underpaid the clients”.

The above claim was made based on the discrepancy between the drivers’ working hour records and the monthly pay slips they had received from SBS Transit, which were below the Ministry of Manpower (MOM)’s regulated pay rate, the document read.

According to law firm Carson Law Chambers today, their lawyer M Ravi argued that the aforementioned lawsuit is significant, as the immediate case is “the first wage dispute case of its kind involving Singapore’s bus operator”.

The ruling will not only affect Carson Law Chambers’ immediate clients in this case, but also thousands of other SBS transit drivers, as “[m]any have worked loyally and diligently for several years and back-pay”, said the firm.

M Ravi added that the possibility of a breach of MOM’s regulated pay rate needs to be examined in the immediate case, and that any “statutory sanctions”, if available, should be looked into accordingly.

Additionally, the suit will potentially delve into the “extent of various Employment Act breaches that may have occurred with regards rest days and overtime pay in the Contracts of Employment”, according to M Ravi.

A statement of claim was also filed last Fri, in which it was stressed that four of the bus drivers had already “commenced similar suits” against SBS Transit in the Magistrates Court previously, but were told to “wait for the decision” regarding their claim and report against the company.

“However, both the claim and report were ignored despite attending two (2) meetings with the National Transport Workers’ Union (“NTWU”) and ComfortDelGro respectively,” the document read, noting that the meetings took place in Jul and Aug.

The particular plaintiff in the statement of claim had “officially lodged a report to Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM)”, which was then referred to the National Trades Congress Union (NTUC).

However, he did not receive any “conclusive answers” after the meetings and decided to request “an official letter” from SBS Transit detailing the breakdown of his monthly pay in order “to better understand where the Defendants were coming from”.

While SBS Transit purportedly agreed to send such a letter within two days of the bus driver’s request, he did not receive any response from the company, following which he “sent out four (4) chaser emails” to the company.

SBS Transit allegedly replied by “restating their position which is in breach of the contract”, according to the statement of claim.

Among the alleged breaches included, but were not limited to, the following:

  • Expecting the plaintiff to work for “7 consecutive days prior to getting an off day”, which the plaintiff claimed was not what both he and SBS Transit had agreed upon in the Letter of Appointment – thus possibly breaching Section 36 of the Employment Act where an employee should be given a rest day per week, or a rest day after a continuous period of 30 hours if on shift; and
  • Putting the plaintiff in a position where he had worked “beyond 44 hours in a week”, which possibly contravenes Sections 38(1)(a) and 38(1)(b) of the Employment Act whereby an employee should not be required to work either more than 6 consecutive hours without a period of leisure, or more than 8 hours in a day, or more than 44 hours in a week.

SBS Transit Ltd, as the defendant, has eight days from the date the writ of summons was served to respond to the bus drivers’ claims, that is to either satisfy such claims or to enter an appearance and defend itself against the lawsuit.

Updated as of 11.15 p.m.: Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at SBS Transit Tammy Tan told TOC on Mon (23 Sep) in response to queries: “SBS Transit confirms that writs of summons have been served today by Carson Law Chambers on behalf of five of our Bus Captains.

“We are in discussion with our lawyers. We intend to defend against the allegations rigorously,” added Ms Tan.