SMRT on dorm conditions: We could have done better

UPDATED 10:35pm 29 November 2012. Adds latest statements by MOM and SMRT

SMRT management met with more than 130 bus drivers from China in two town hall sessions Thursday afternoon and shared plans to address the workers' concerns.

SMRT has acknowledged the poor living conditions at bus drivers' dorms in Woodlands and said it was taking swift action to improve them.

In a statement issued by SMRT on Thursday evening, the transport operator said measures being taken include repairs to defects and remedial works on broken fittings in affected rooms. It is also arranging fumigation to deal with complaints of bed bugs in some rooms.

As many of the drivers have said they want to move out from the dormitories, SMRT said it will be making alternative accommodation for them at various HDB flats and apartments when the leases of the dormitories expire from early 2013.

The living conditions at the dormitories are one of the main reasons why 171 bus drivers from mainland China went on strike earlier this week. The other reason was the perceived unfairness over pay compared to other foreign bus drivers from Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Manpower disclosed findings of its inspection of the drivers' dormitories on Wednesday.

In a statement Thursday night, the ministry said the general housekeeping conditions of the rooms were below par and bed bug problems were observed in some rooms.

However, it found that the number of occupants in all the SMRT dormitory rooms is kept within the allowed occupancy limit and that they are not overcrowded.

The bus drivers had shared feedback about the living conditions at their dormitories [Woodlands Dormitory and Central Staff Apartments (Serangoon)]. MOM’s Housing Enforcement Branch officers visited the dormitories on Wednesday (28 Nov).

In a statement Wednesday, SMRT executive vice president Teo Chew Hoon said: "There are lessons from this episode, including how we can better engage our Service Leaders, and we will improve in this area. In the meantime, we are doing our utmost to make immediate improvements to their living conditions.

However, SMRT insisted its remuneration package for its drivers from China was competitive and took into account the foreign worker levy and provision of transport, accomodation and utilities.

In an interview with Yahoo! Singapore earlier this week, a female bus driver from China who declined to be named had highlighted the poor living conditions.

"They may say that we are given accommodation, but have you seen the accommodation they give us? It isn't fit for humans," she said in Mandarin. "Eight of us share a room, and there isn't any walking space between our beds. I've also been bitten by rats and insects on multiple occasions before."

Nonetheless, she said all that is still bearable compared to the disparity in pay they receive for their work.

"This really is unfair to us. We do the exact same work, work for the same number of hours and yet we don't receive the same compensation. Our living conditions back home are far, far better than they are here."

Related articles:
20 bus drivers 'assisting' police
SMRT bus drivers' strike illegal: Tan Chuan-Jin
Singapore police stand guard as SMRT bus drivers halt work
Chinese bus drivers stage work stoppage in Singapore
Controversy arises over SMRT bus drivers' new six-day work week
SBS to raise S'porean bus drivers' salaries by 16%

  • Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day 2 hours 0 minutes ago
    Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day

    If there's one car that's particularly sought-after among today's well-heeled car collectors, a Ferrari 250 would be it. Usually it's the GTO variant, like the 1963 that sold for a record $52 million last year. A 250 of any sorts demands unfathomable cash, however, which is why we can but gawk at this 250 Testa Rossa. It's as close as any mere mortal will ever come to owning one.

  • Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners 2 hours 56 minutes ago
    Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners

    Buyers of Ferraris or Jaguars are used to perks from manufacturers – including racetrack lessons to help master their exotic machines. But for enthusiasts on a tighter budget, the Ford ST Octane Academy might be the sweetest deal in motoring: Buy a Ford Fiesta ST or Focus ST hatchback, and the reward is a free day of training at one of America’s longest, most-lavish road courses.

  • Why you can't buy America's greenest car 6 hours ago
    Why you can't buy America's greenest car

    Ask me or any auto expert what's the fastest car you can buy for any given amount, and we could easily cough up several options. Same for most luxurious, or off-roadable, or any other measurement. Yet there's one type of question that's far harder to answer: What's the greenest, most environmentally friendly car you can buy today?

  • Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia
    Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Armed pirates boarded a Singapore-managed oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, kidnapping three Indonesian crew and stealing some of the vessel's shipment of diesel fuel, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday. The attack occurred early Tuesday off Malaysia's west coast, said Noel Choong, head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre. The diesel oil tanker was believed to be en route to Myanmar. "IMB is aware of the attack on the Singapore-managed ship in the Malacca Straits.

  • McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania
    McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania

    It may not be safe to enter a McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore on Mondays starting 28 April. To celebrate the iconic Japanese character Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, the fast food chain announced last Friday that it would be releasing a new collection of Hello Kitty toys in McDonald’s restaurants island wide next Monday.

  • First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy
    First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy

    He called the emergency 119 number which put him through to the fire service, which in turn forwarded him to the coastguard two minutes later. That was followed by about 20 other calls from children on board the ship to the emergency number, a fire service officer told Reuters.