In Singapore, working as a bus driver seems like an unwelcome job among the locals due to low pay, long working hours and poor work-life balance.
A few bus drivers from SBS Transit have even been brought their dispute over work matters to court recently in the form of a lawsuit regarding overtime wages and rest days.
The recent lawsuit spurred the withdrawal of some bus drivers from the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) who claimed that the union did not stand its ground to fight for its members’ rights and felt pointless to stay within the union.
Recently, TOC met up with a few bus drivers from different bus interchanges to hear from them about their issues and difficulties faced when working as bus drivers.
Drivers overworked due to long working hours and changing work schedule
One of the issues that was constantly brought up is long working hours for bus drivers. The drivers complained that long working hours and changing work schedule resulted in a lack of rest.
Based on the employment contract that TOC was shown, bus drivers are supposed to work for six days and given one day of rest. But according to the bus drivers, they are actually made to work seven days and given one day of rest.
The bus drivers said that sometimes they are overstressed and overworked as the company seems to “squeeze” them to the max by amending their work schedule.
Bus drivers also complain about the time that they take to clean the buses and top up the fuel, was not counted as over-time, however, this has changed since the company switched to contractors as the contractors keep the timing of the top-ups.
Speaking on the issue of work schedules being amended, the drivers said, “SBS sometimes will inform us on the day itself,” adding that the reasons given by SBS for the amendments are “unacceptable” – such as covering for other bus drivers.
The drivers TOC spoke to, doubted that SBS would activate the standby drivers because of the company’s “preference” of drivers.
How safe is such a deployment policy, asked a bus driver who has been with SBS for six years. He shared that he had recently been given a work schedule that has him working for 12 continuous days.
The same bus driver said that while the young drivers can say that the workload is acceptable, but asked how long would they be able to keep up such a pace and at what cost?
Work-life balance is essentially not possible for a bus driver due to the odd-hours of work and the eight-day work shift, said another bus driver who was at the interview session. Those in the morning shift would have to go to work at 4 am while those in the night shift would end their work at about 2-3 am.
Performance bonus being affected due to inconsistency of point-based system
The bus drivers also complained that SBS was no longer paying sick leave since 2008 even though they claimed that paid sick leave has been a long-time practice of the company. The drivers alleged that SBS “slowly changed” their terms and as a result, employees start to forget about this long-time practice.
At the same time, the drivers also raised the issue of how taking sick leave affects their performance bonus and salary increment although they are entitled to 14 days of sick leave.
“Drivers who take more than two days sick leave will have their points deducted,” said one of the drivers, adding that the more points are deducted, the lesser chance they have of getting the full performance bonus.
According to the drivers, the performance bonus that they received is based on SBS’s point-based system. If a driver is convicted of offences, their points will be deducted and that will subsequently affect their bonus — they still, however, get their full 13th-month bonus.
The drivers lamented that sometimes the points will not reflect their actual performances because SBS will ask the drivers to be “responsible” for their own “fault”, even if the fault may not be the drivers’.
Noting that SBS might charge bus drivers for offences without any evidence, the bus drivers shared from their personal experience that when they requested to check the CCTV footage to verify an incident scene, their requests were turned down by SBS on the grounds of “privacy”.
One of the drivers said, “It is very difficult for us to maintain such points according to their standards.”
“There are people who can maintain [it], because they are service people, not like BC (bus captain) at frontline,” he added.
Some bus drivers have given up trying to aim for the upper-tier bonuses all together due to the difficulty, according to the bus drivers whom TOC interviewed. And the ironic aspect of the bonus system is that the lesser a bus driver drives, the more likely one will be able to score high points because of the tendency to lose points via complaints.
Unequal treatment of upper level and lower level
One of the bus drivers went on to say, “We are the ones who go to war, we are at the frontline. The higher authorities just ‘press button, press button’, so it’s unfair. The one who face [the] sun, [and are] under the rain is us.”
The driver expressed his discontent over the unfairness of bonuses being deducted after enduring all these tough times.
The bus drivers commented that only certain people will score higher points – leaders and senior bus captains have this privilege. This means they are less likely to experience bonus deductions.
Apart from that, such unequal treatment is also reflected in the handling of complaints against drivers. The drivers claimed that only certain complaints will be taken into consideration after being “filtered” by SBS, implying that only certain drivers will be reprimanded for complaints received.
One of the drivers was unhappy when she was given a warning due to a passenger’s complaint about the overcharging of bus fare. The bus drivers claimed that the overcharge should not be pinned on the bus driver’s responsibility as the passenger had paid the bus fare with the tap-and-go system.
While the company allegedly did not accept her argument, her case was eventually resolved after being told that another senior had the same complaint from passengers.
To this, the other drivers pointed out that SBS’s “preference” caused these kinds of unfair situations to happen.
Touching on the government’s launch of autonomous buses, the bus drivers commented that authorities have overlooked the safety of passengers. The drivers claimed that autonomous buses are not passenger-friendly and it is not the same as having a bus driver guarding the vehicle.
On the changes to the buses to supposedly improve safety, the drivers noted that these amendments unwittingly create safety hazards, such as bus doors can only be opened when the bus halts at designated bus stops and the emergency door being taken off to increase seating capacity, said the bus drivers. “What if a fire happens in the middle of the road?” asks one of the bus drivers.
Going back to the unjust treatments, one of the drivers remarked that the unfairness has long been there. It’s just that nobody is brave enough to speak up against injustices, as many people believe that having “no mess is the best”.