China bus drivers' pay is fair, SMRT CEO insists

Jeanette Tan
SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek speaking with about 100 bus drivers on Monday morning at his first townhall session. (Photo courtesy of SMRT)

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek on Monday reiterated to bus drivers from China that their existing compensation is fair despite being lower than that of their Malaysian colleagues.

In his first townhall session with the drivers in the wake of their two-day “illegal strike” last week, Kuek noted that with the transport, accommodation and utilities of about $275 borne by the company for the China bus drivers and not for the Malaysian drivers, “your compensation terms... are fair and equitable”.

Seemingly hinting that no further pay raise would be forthcoming, Kuek said that, with recent increments, the starting pay of the mainland China drivers is now $1,100.

He further pointed out that with the clocking of an average of 60 overtime hours a month, gross pay can be as high as $1,800.

Responding to complaints that net pay had actually fallen despite the increments due to the transport operator’s shift to a six-day work week from a five-day one, Kuek said the shift to six days was “necessary to meet the demands for rising bus ridership and service standards, and to ensure that the work-hours for all our service leaders are spread out more evenly”.

“This is an important consideration in view of commuter safety as well as our service leaders’ personal health and well being,” he said, adding that management will look into the possibility of allowing drivers to cash out their unused leave days.

Regarding the recent charges against five bus drivers and the deportation of another 29, Kuek said SMRT did not expect further arrests or repatriations related to the strike.

“You will be allowed to remain and work in Singapore, so long as you continue to abide by our laws. We expect all of you to continue to uphold the terms of your contract as these were agreed upon by you knowingly and willingly,” he asserted. 

More than 180 SMRT bus drivers from China participated in a two-day strike last week to protest disparity in pay systems between themselves and other foreign drivers, resulting in five of them being arrested and charged in court, with the fifth, who pleaded guilty, sentenced to six weeks’ jail. A further 150 were issued police warnings while another 29 were dismissed and deported over the weekend.

SMRT’s compensatory efforts have since comprised the setting up of a 24-hour hotline, the planned election of local representatives, regular townhall meetings and steps to improve living conditions, one of the drivers’ key complaints during their strike.

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