Controversy arises over SMRT bus drivers’ new six-day week

(UPDATED 23 May at 1:35pm - adding comments from NTWU representative)

More pay but also more work.

That sums up the fresh controversy surrounding SMRT’s recent decision to raise its bus drivers’ salaries by about 35 per cent.
 
In a bid to attract more Singaporeans to the job, the transport operator last week announced it was raising the starting pay for new Singaporean bus drivers from $1,200 to $1,625 per month. Permanent Resident (PR) and Malaysian bus drivers will receive a basic salary of $1350, up from $1200.
 
After factoring in overtime, allowance and incentives, pay for Singaporean bus drivers can go up to $2,500 on average, up from between $1,600 and $2,000, said spokespersons for SMRT last week.
 
But it’s now emerged that as part of the pay raise, SMRT has changed the usual five-day work week to a six-day one.
 
As reported on Today newspaper, an SMRT spokesperson said the six-day work week was necessary to cope with increasing ridership and operation of buses. This has led to a shortage of bus drivers, hence the adjustment in salary and number of working days.
 
SMRT also told Yahoo! Singapore that the revised work schedules retained the 44-hour basic working week, but that the 44 basic working hours would be spread out across six days instead of five days.
 
Additionally, under the current 5-day work week roster, the higher overtime rate of 1.5 times the basic salary starts after the first 8.8 hours of the work day.
 
With the new 6-day work week roster, OT rate starts after the first 7.33 hours.
 
“Based on the current average duty hours of 9 hours per day, they will be able to clock the same number of OT hours, but now at a higher basic pay rate,” an SMRT spokesperson said.
 
The basic salary increment will be backdated to 1 May, while the six-day work week schedule will only start on 1 July, allowing bus drivers time to adjust to the new schedule, said the spokesperson.
 
He added that some drivers may not be fully familiarized with the details yet and ongoing communication sessions were being held to present the new changes in detail.

Additionally, a representative from the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) said on Tuesday that the number of working hours each day has been reduced from 8.8 to 7.3 hours.

TODAY reported on Wednesday that in a letter to the media, NTWU's assistant executive secretary Choo Joon See added also that even under the five-day week framework, most bus drivers volunteer to work on the sixth day in order to enjoy an overtime rate of 1.5 times their usual pay.

"The fear is that with a six-day week, their overtime for working on a day off will disappear," he was quoted as saying. "However, with shorter working hours every day under a six-day week, they now accumulate overtime every day instead of only on the sixth day."

He added that the union had gone through the new roster cycle, determining that there is "no loss in overtime overall".

"In fact, with a higher basic wage, the overtime rate per hour will go up, further boosting their pay," he wrote.
 
However, a bus captain called Mr Yu was quoted on Chinese daily Shin Min Daily News that bus captains will now have one rest day less a week, leading to higher fatigue and instances of sick leave applied.
 
He added that under the new pay structure, some bus drivers felt that the adjustment to their wages and work week means they would be working more and earning less.

Last month, Singapore’s other main transport operator, SBS Transit, said it would increase the starting pay of new Singaporean drivers by 16 per cent from May onwards to encourage more Singaporean bus drivers to apply for such opening.

The basic pay was raised to S$1,600 from S$1,375. With overtime pay and allowances, drivers could earn about S$2,250 a month in gross salary in their first year of service, SBS Transit said.

The firm’s existing 1,900 Singaporean bus drivers also get to take home an additional S$225, with non-Singaporean drivers getting a smaller increase of between $75 and $150.

The transport operators' announcements come after the government announced in this year’s Budget it would set aside S$1.1 billion to fund a significant expansion of bus capacity.

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