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)

SBS Transit’s move to move to refer wage dispute to IAC “responsible” and “appropriate”: SNEF

The decision of public transport operator SBS Transit Ltd to refer a recent wage dispute case filed by five bus drivers against the company to the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC) is a “responsible” and “appropriate” one, said the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).

In a statement on Fri (18 Oct), SNEF said that this is because SBS Transit has a collective agreement (CA) in force with the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU).

According to SNEF, management and union leaders in unionised companies “discuss and negotiate on many issues affecting the welfare of workers”, which is then submitted for certification by IAC in the form of a CA.

“Any subsequent disagreements over any provisions in the CA can then be surfaced to the IAC for resolution,” said the Federation, adding that such a measure will preserve “the integrity of the negotiations and CA” and will “safeguard the interests of both the employer and the employees”.

“As SBS Transit has a CA in force with the National Transport Workers’ Union, the Singapore National Employers Federation therefore views the application by the company to the IAC to interpret certain provisions in their CA as a responsible and appropriate step to take,” SNEF said.

SNEF added that Singapore’s harmonious labour-management relations landscape has been “forged by the consultative approach in resolving industrial relations issues through dialogue between management and unions”.

“This approach fosters mutual understanding between both parties and seeks to achieve outcomes that benefit both employers and employees,” according to the Federation.

SBS Transit bus drivers withdrew from NTWU after multiple attempts to push for Union’s representation in wage dispute; IAC should be used only in a “deadlock”: Carson Law Chambers

M Ravi, a lawyer from Carson Law Chambers, representing the five bus drivers in their separate lawsuits against SBS Transit over similar issues, however said in a statement today that its clients “withdrew from the NTWU” and “rightfully sought redress from the Court as a means to seek justice”.

Mr Ravi stressed that its clients had only filed their claims in the Magistrates’ Court “after all discussion and internal processes with the employer and the union had exhausted”.

Highlighting that the IAC “should rightly be used when there is a deadlock between the NTWU and the employer”, Mr Ravi said that SBS Transit “had submitted to the jurisdiction of the State Court” by filing its defence through its lawyers.

“To respect the rule of law and the jurisdiction of the Court, the redress ought to continue in the Courts and can be resolved amicably (if so desired) by utilising the mediation stage of the Court process,” the statement read.

Responding to Mr Ravi’s statement, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at SBS Transit Tammy Tan, however, told TOC on Fri that SBS Transit “fully respects the jurisdiction of the Court, which is why we will continue to vigorously contest the bus captains’ claims in Court”.

Reference to IAC “has nothing to do with mediation”, company will continue to “vigorously contest” bus drivers’ claims in court: SBS Transit

Ms Tan also stressed that “[t]he reference to IAC has nothing to do with mediation”, but “to interpret Collective Agreements which have been called into question.”

“In doing so, SBS Transit is acting in accordance with the law, in the interests of all of SBS Transit bus captains and in keeping with the letter and spirit of our excellent relationship with the NTWU,” she added.

In a statement on Fri, SBS Transit said that it “has acted in accordance with its obligations in law and under the relevant agreements and practices” towards its employees, including the five bus drivers.

The claims made by the bus drivers, SBS Transit added, “raise issues that arise from and affect collective agreements that SBS Transit has entered into with the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU)”.

“Therefore, in accordance with the law, in the interests of all of SBS Transit’s Bus Captains and in keeping with the letter and spirit of its excellent relationship with the NTWU, SBS Transit will be referring these issues to the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC) for its decision,” the company added.

SBS Transit allegedly “breached the term of the contract on overtime pay and have underpaid the clients”: Carson Law Chambers

In a writ of summons filed by lawyer M Ravi on 20 Sep and seen by TOC on 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.