Lapses by SMRT maintenance staff brought disrepute to transport workers, says Khaw Boon Wan

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, representatives from public transport operators and pre-school children at the launch of the Public Transport Workers’ Appreciation Day.
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, representatives from public transport operators and pre-school children at the launch of the Public Transport Workers’ Appreciation Day.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - The failure of a group of SMRT staff to carry out their maintenance duties - leading to an MRT tunnel flooding in October - had "negated the good work" of other SMRT workers, and "brought disrepute" to other transport workers, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Tuesday (Nov 14).

"They have tarnished the reputation of Singapore and Singaporeans," Mr Khaw said in a speech at Bedok Town Square, during the first appreciation day for public transport workers.

While the event was to recognise and thank about 22,000 transport workers, Mr Khaw had stern words for the SMRT staff responsible for the tunnel flooding on Oct 7 between Bishan and Braddell MRT stations, which shut down train services on a segment of the North-South Line for about 20 hours.

He said the past cannot be changed, adding: "But let it be the turning point for SMRT, especially in its journey towards transforming its corporate culture."

He encouraged SMRT workers to dedicate their 100 per cent to make train services reliable again.

"This requires an all-out effort. This requires everyone in SMRT to play their part, from the CEO down to the rank and file," Mr Khaw said, adding that while the company will find support from the union and other workers, SMRT staff themselves must do the "heavy lifting".

Mr Khaw then called on SMRT staff present at the event to raise their hands, and asked the audience to cheer them on, in a round of applause.

He said there will be "some black sheep" in every large organisation, and lapses leading to the flooding incident on Oct 7 could happen to other companies too.

He said the job of public transport operators was to identify errant workers, counsel them and give them a chance to shape up.


"What we should not do is to turn a blind eye to their act, or worse, follow them," he added.

During his speech, Mr Khaw recognised the vital work that transport workers do, with the public transportation network expanding and an increase in the number of commuters taking trains and buses daily.

He said seven in 10 Singaporeans take public transport daily, and daily bus and rail rides have increased by 30 per cent to nearly eight million in five years.

Mr Khaw said the work has increased as new demands arose.

He gave the example of bus drivers having to coordinate with service controllers to pace their buses and reduce bunching, so that buses will arrive with greater punctuality.

Mr Khaw added that the Government is committed to improving the working conditions and training opportunities of transport workers. These will come in the form of new and upgraded bus depots and interchanges with better staff facilities.

He encouraged commuters to take active steps to show appreciation to transport workers every day. “Even a little smile, saying a ‘thank you’ through your body language, it makes a tonne of difference,” he said.

The Public Transport Workers' Appreciation Day is held by the Land Transport Authority, the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) and public transport operators.

NTWU executive secretary Melvin Yong had previously said that the event had been planned several months ago, and was not held in response to apparent public dissatisfaction over public transportation.

In a post on his Facebook page on Tuesday, Mr Yong also urged all commuters to show appreciation to public transport workers daily. “A small gesture can certainly go a long way,” Mr Yong wrote. 

As part of the appreciation day, bus company Tower Transit Singapore also launched TowerCare, a staff welfare and engagement programme. Staff can look forward to weekly fitness classes, health talks, as well as pool and table tennis tournaments. Tower Transit has also partnered more than 20 merchants - including telcos, local and overseas hotels and traditional Chinese medical treatment providers - to offer staff discounts.