SMRT bus drivers could earn $1,000 more a month

An SMRT bus driver leaves the bus to take a break at the Woodlands bus interchange. A new wage model will allow an average local bus driver working at SMRT to earn as much as $1,000 more, or $3,500 a month. -- FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG  
An SMRT bus driver leaves the bus to take a break at the Woodlands bus interchange. A new wage model will allow an average local bus driver working at SMRT to earn as much as $1,000 more, or $3,500 a month. -- FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG  

New wage model will have more ranks with broader salary ranges

A new wage model will allow an average local bus driver working at SMRT to earn as much as $1,000 more, or $3,500 a month.

Previously, he could make about $2,500 a month, including overtime, allowances and performance incentives.

The new scheme, called a progressive wage model, also has more ranks and broader salary ranges, a change that promises greater career opportunities.

There will be six ranks for moving up, an increase from three. Also, career advancement is clearly spelt out, with tailored training at each rank for drivers.

All of SMRT's 2,100 drivers, whether local or foreign, will be included in the scheme, developed with the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU).

In announcing the change yesterday, SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek said: "The ability to retain talent and maintain our staff's workforce health is key in ensuring that SMRT continues to deliver an excellent travel experience to commuters."

The move by the public transport operator marks two major developments.

One, it is a step forward for the labour movement's progressive wage model, which hit a hump in September when talks to raise the wages of security guards stalled. The model was introduced last year to raise workers' salaries through better skills and higher productivity.

Two, it is a response to a strike last November by a group of its bus drivers from China, over living conditions and the pay gap between them and their Malaysian colleagues.

SMRT yesterday declined to give estimates of how much more its foreign drivers could earn with the new wage scheme.

As before, the drivers will start as bus captains. But now, they can go all the way up to master bus captain - the highest rank - when they will supervise a group and train other drivers.

As they move up the ranks, they will be trained to do more, including learning more complex routes, leadership skills and how to give better customer service.

Previously, competent drivers hit their career ceiling after three promotions, when they became chief service leaders.

Said NTWU executive secretary Ong Chin Ang: "With the new model, traditional front-line roles are transformed and bus captains can look forward to supervisory positions with higher wages."

Mr Kuek believes the new scheme will produce better- trained and engaged drivers, who will create "a more reliable and service-oriented bus service".

Singapore's other public transport operator, SBS Transit, said it implemented a progressive wage model in May last year "where bus captains showing talent, capability and potential are able to rise in the organisation".

SMRT drivers like chief bus captain (level two) Lim Yew Poon welcomed the change. Mr Lim, who joined the company in 1986 and is one of just three drivers in this senior position, said it will encourage drivers to perform better to get ahead.

It could also encourage more people to be bus drivers. "They won't think the job is just about driving a bus, with no future."

roysim@sph.com.sg