13 SBS Transit bus drivers have applied to transfer their lawsuit against the company from Magistrates’ Court to High Court on the grounds of several important questions of law of public interest relating to provisions in the Employment Act.
Having filed the application on behalf of the drivers, their lawyer M Ravi of Carson Law Chambers said in a Facebook post on Thursday (11 Mar) that the questions of law related to such provisions will not only impact their cases, but may also affect the rights of all 6,000 SBS Transit bus drivers.
“The suits will also be a test for the rights of all employees in Singapore,” he said.
Mr Ravi noted that SBS Transit will be opposing this application, “based on the indication given by its lawyers” at the last court session.
SBS Transit is represented by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh and his team.
The case has been set for a three-day trial in May, Mr Ravi added.
On 3 Mar last year, five bus drivers argued that by failing to compensate its bus drivers at the basic hourly rate of pay for their waiting time between shifts, SBS Transit had breached an implied term stated in their service agreement.
The lawsuit arose after the two parties had failed to reach a settlement in their final mediation session between the first tranche of suits as reported in Feb last year.
In a statement of claim filed in the State Courts that month, the bus drivers alleged that the company has breached several provisions under the EA — the statutory legislation upon which the terms and conditions pertaining to their working hours and overtime were based on.
The bus drivers claimed that SBS Transit had failed to compensate them at the basic hourly rate of pay “for the period between 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. on the morning and split shifts” in which the drivers are “engaged to be waiting”, and “between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the split shift”.
SBS Transit, they added, had also failed to abide by Clause 24(9) of the Service Agreement by not compensating them the agreed allowance of $18 for work done on the night shift.
The company, they alleged, had also breached Section 36(1) of the EA by failing to provide on a roster a weekly rest day.
In addition, the company had violated Section 37(3)(b) and Section 37(3)(c) of the EA by not paying them “the statutorily prescribed rate” of a sum at the basic rate of pay for two days’ worth of work, the bus drivers argued.
By imposing a “Built-In Overtime” that resulted in the bus drivers working for longer than the statutorily prescribed daily work period of eight hours as well as 44 hours per week, SBS Transit had also breached Section 38(1) of the EA, according to the bus drivers.
Other breaches under the EA allegedly made by SBS Transit, as claimed by the bus drivers, include compensating them at the normal hourly rate of pay — instead of the statutorily prescribed rate of an extra day’s salary at the basic rate of pay for one day’s work, in addition to the gross rate of pay for that day — for work done on public holidays.
The five additional bus drivers bring the total number of bus drivers currently taking legal action against SBS Transit to 13.
Previous writ of summons filed on the grounds of discrepancy between the drivers’ working hour records and the monthly payslips received from SBS Transit
In a writ of summons filed by Mr Ravi and seen by TOC in Sep 2019, the five 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 payslips they had received from SBS Transit, which were below the Ministry of Manpower (MOM)’s regulated pay rate, the document read.
Mr 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 EA breaches that may have occurred with regards rest days and overtime pay in the Contracts of Employment”, according to Mr Ravi.
A statement of claim — filed the same month — 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 salary 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 EA 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 EA 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.
Mr M Ravi previously said that the immediate case is “the first wage dispute case of its kind involving Singapore’s bus operator”.
Eight bus drivers applied to High Court to quash IAC decision in dispute against SBS Transit
On 16 Jan last year, eight bus drivers had earlier filed a judicial review application to the High Court to quash the Industrial Arbitration Court’s (IAC)’s decision in their dispute against SBS Transit regarding overtime wages and rest days.
A hearing was conducted on 4 Nov last year 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 EA based on exceptions.
IAC president Chan Seng Onn, a High Court judge, in a written decision stated that SBS Transit’s agreements with NTWU were not in breach of the EA.
The IAC decision, argued the drivers as seen by TOC in court documents, was “irrational” and was in breach of its jurisdiction, as the IAC had allegedly failed to consider “all relevant material” prior to making said decision.
The bus drivers argued that the IAC’s decision was based “solely” upon “samples of bus captains’ employment contracts and information provided by SBS Transit”, which the IAC had “extrapolated to all Bus Captains” as well as “the presentations by NTWU which held the position that SBS Transit’s practices were not in breach of the Employment Act”.
“This is clearly irrational, as it does not take into account rosters and contracts of Bus Captains who allege otherwise,” their affidavit read.
Furthermore, the bus drivers highlighted that NTWU, as an entity that is not a party to the dispute between them and SBS, should not act as — in their words, “a nosy parker” to represent the interests of non-unionised workers such as themselves, particularly when the union holds that the plaintiffs have no basis for their claims.
“It is highly irregular for NTWU to be taking cognisance of a trade dispute raised by non-union members, and at the same time, maintaining the position that the aforesaid disputants have no basis for their claims,” they argued.
The bus drivers also alleged — in giving reasons for applying for judicial review of the IAC decision — that SBS Transit had “covertly attempted” to have the legal dispute “resolved beforehand” in the IAC in their absence.
The above, they argued, constituted a breach of the audi alteram paltram rule — one of the principal rules in natural justice — which dictates that a decision made by a court cannot stand unless the party directly affected by the decision was given a fair chance to state their case and to hear the other party’s case in a hearing.
The plaintiffs also argued that the IAC had “jumped the gun” by taking on the question of whether SBS Transit’s practices were in line with the Employment Act “before it was established that SBS Transit was in breach of the relevant provisions” of the Act.
They claimed that it is not within the jurisdiction of a lower court such as the IAC to do so, and that “it is for a higher court to deliver judgement” on whether or not there has been a breach before referring the case back to the IAC to give the necessary orders.
The bus drivers in the case comprise three Singaporeans and five Malaysians. Five of them filed a writ of summons against SBS Transit in Sep 2019, while three filed theirs in Dec that year.