Three drivers have filed separate legal suits against their employer SBS Transit last week, accusing the public transport operator for overtime pay and pay on rest days “allegedly in breach of the Employment Act”.
This news was announced by law firm Carson Laws Chambers on its official Facebook page on Monday morning (30 December).
In the post, it was stated that these three drivers are Malaysians, and their claims are similar of those five SBS drivers who sued their employer over dispute in working hours and overtime pay in September this year.
“Three new drivers working for SBS Transit have separately filed suits last week in the Magistrates’ Court against SBS Transit LTD for overtime pay and pay on rest days allegedly in breach of the Employment Act similar to the previous claims by the 5 SBS Drivers whom we are representing,” said Carson Laws Chambers.
The law firm also stated that lawyer M Ravi will be representing these three Malaysian bus drivers. He also represented the five driver from the previous case in September.
Previous case involving five bus drivers
In September 2019, five bus drivers sued SBS Transit for underpaying them for overtime hours as well as asking them to work for more than 44 hours a week, which breaches the Employment Act.
According to court documents, one of the driver Chua Qwong Meng was expected to work for seven days straight before he was entitled for a day off. However, this was not something he and SBS Transit agreed on based on the appointment letter. If that’s not all, it’s also breach of the Employment Act.
Additionally, Mr Chua also claimed that he was asked to work for more than 44 hours a week, and he was not paid the regulated overtime pay. Based on his statement of claim, the records of his working hours did not tally with his monthly pay slips.
According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) guidelines, employees are entitled for an overtime pay of 1.5 times their hourly basic pay at a minimum, if their basic salaries are not more than S$4,500.
Following that, SBS Transit made the decision to refer the case to the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC) and a hearing was conducted on 4 November to determine whether public transport operators have the legal right to require their employees to work beyond the maximum of 44 hours per week as stated in the Employment Act based on exceptions.
IAC president Chan Seng Onn, a High Court judge, however said that SBS Transit does not have to rely on said exceptions if it is able to implement another shift for its bus drivers. With the option of said shift, individual drivers will not have to work over 44 hours a week on “permanent OT”, he proposed.
Solicitors from Davinder Singh LLC, on behalf of SBS Transit, in their written submission argued that SBS Transit is entitled to ask its bus captains to “work on a rest day under section 38(2)(f) of the Employment Act”.
The defence lawyer also argued that the bus captains “were only expected to work, and in fact worked, 6 days” per week.
The court heard that SBS Transit drivers are expected to work morning shifts and afternoon shifts on alternating weeks, six days a week. Morning shifts begin at 5.30am and end at 2.30pm, while afternoon ones begin at 1.30pm and end at 12.30am.
SBS Transit’s head of human resources Don Leow subsequently suggested that, based on the above, SBS Transit’s bus drivers will have a 48-hour work week on morning-shift weeks and a 60-hour work week on afternoon-shift weeks, which do not include breaks and meal times. The 48-hour work week is inclusive of “built-in” overtime (OT) hours, he added.
However, the bus drivers’ lawyer M Ravi argued against the implementation of the “built-in” OT hours into regular work hours, as the services of bus drivers under ordinary circumstances do not fall under the purpose of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.
Having stressed that SBS Transit has informed its drivers regarding the OT even during recruitment, Mr Leow, in turn, proposed that drivers who are unable to work the expected hours after signing their contracts may opt to switch to part-time employment and work half-shifts instead, which will fall below the maximum allowed under the Employment Act.
NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay, a representative of the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) added that the public transport sector is faced with a manpower shortage, and that the two-shift system is the standard practice in the industry. He also said that NTWU “had no issues” with the terms of the agreement.
Mr Singh in his submission also argued that the bus drivers “whether unionised or not, were and are better off” with SBS Transit’s practices, as they “are paid their full monthly basic salary even if they do not actually clock the full 4 hours of Built-In OT”.
He added that SBS Transit “at all material times” has acted appropriately in tandem with the Employment Act.
“At all material times, the Defendant complied with its contractual obligations to the Plaintiff and the law. Its rules and/or regulations and/or policies and/or prevailing schemes and/or practices on working hours, overtime and rest days were and are in accordance with the Employment Act (Chapter 91) and the Ministry of Manpower’s guidelines,” Mr Singh reiterated.