SMRT offers bigger carrots to hire staff

It hopes employees can help it fill 700 places under improved cash-for-referral scheme

Transport operator SMRT Corporation is dangling bigger carrots in front of its 9,000 staff to get them to help it fill 700 new positions.

Referrers get $1,600 for every Singaporean or permanent resident bus captain or trainer recruited. They get $1,500 for rail supervisors and $3,000 for engineers. These can be foreigners.

SMRT is also giving new bus captains and trainers $2,000 as a sign-on bonus, and engineers and rail supervisors up to $3,000 - offers that end by April next year.

In a statement yesterday, SMRT said the cash incentives are its most attractive yet and are part of its plans to boost its maintenance capabilities. Many of the jobs are fresh positions created as SMRT gears up for growth, it added.

Its offer comes amid fiercer competition for bus drivers with the entry of two new London-based operators, Tower Transit and Go-Ahead.

SMRT is not the only one to give staff incentives for referrals. Since 2010, bus operator SBS Transit (SBST) has been offering up to $1,700 for Singaporean bus captains and $1,200 for technicians and operations staff who are successfully referred.

Monthly pay packages for drivers are competitive under tripartite guidelines stipulating that bus drivers with incumbent operators have to be offered jobs by new players on similar, if not better, terms.

Last month, Tower Transit, which won the rights to operate Singapore's first government bus contract in May, said its basic starting salary for Singaporean bus captains is $1,865 monthly. This is 5 to 15 per cent higher than other existing bus operators SBST and SMRT.

The Go-Ahead Group, which won the award for the Loyang package last month, has yet to announce its remuneration package but plans to offer competitive pay packages and good levels of staff benefits.

Mr Fang Chin Poh, general secretary of the National Transport Workers' Union, said SMRT's move is timely. But one-time bonuses may not be as attractive as increasing basic monthly wages, he noted.

Professor Walter Theseira, a labour economist at SIM University, said Singapore has always faced a shortage of local Singaporean public transport workers and engineers. "The shift work, the need to keep to rigorous schedules... can be off-putting to some," he said.

"We need to accept that (drivers and engineers) should receive pay that is commensurate with the difficult and important job they are doing."

But this does not necessarily mean higher fares. The costs can be drawn from general tax revenue instead, he said. "Nonetheless, someone must pay for quality."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'SMRT offers bigger carrots to hire staff'. Print Edition | Subscribe