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%