SINGAPORE - The abuse of public transport workers is "wrong and unacceptable", and those who do it will face the full force of the law, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat on Monday (Oct 5).
The punishment can include up to three years in jail when convicted of voluntarily causing hurt.
Mr Chee, in a speech in Parliament, strongly condemned the recent cases of commuters who verbally and physical abuse bus drivers. He called for a "right societal culture, one that is based on respect for our front-line workers".
He said: "What we need is to take a clear stand. The Government, unions, public transport operators, and I would say the great majority of Singaporeans are united in taking a zero-tolerance approach towards such abusive behaviours."
His warning comes amid a rise in cases of verbal and physical abuse of bus drivers by commuters who did not wear a mask, which is mandatory.
He issued it when replying Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), who had asked if more could be done by the Transport Ministry to protect bus drivers and other transport service staff.
Referencing a bus driver safety review done in 2018 in Australia, Mr Saktiandi, who is chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, suggested the ministry explore having a public awareness campaign and developing a code of conduct for passengers.
Mr Chee said the ministry is already working with transport operators and the unions to better protect drivers, and welcomed Mr Saktiandi's more specific suggestions, noting that ultimately, a collective effort from all involved - including commuters - is what is needed.
More cases of abuse of bus drivers took place this year, with anti-coronavirus regulations, like mask-wearing, emerging as a source of conflict between the drivers and commuters.
SBS Transit has recorded almost 40 cases of its public bus staff being assaulted this year, about half of which were mask-related. This is up from the 33 cases in the whole of last year.
In a recent high-profile case, commuter Ja'afally Abdul Rahim was charged after repeatedly punching bus driver Low Kok Weng on Sept 15 after he was asked to don a mask on boarding the bus.
If convicted of voluntarily causing hurt, he can be jailed up to three years, fined a maximum of $5,000, or given both punishments.
The seriousness of this egregious trend has led the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) to revive an idea floated two years ago of installing a plastic shield around the bus driver's seat as a protection against unruly commuters.
The union is testing possible models now, and MP Melvin Yong, NTWU executive secretary, asked Mr Chee, who is also Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, if the Land Transport Authority would support such a move on all public buses if a suitable model were found.
Mr Chee said feedback would have to be sought from the bus drivers, as a similar 2018 trial found the shields created glare which affected their driving. "Ultimately, this is for both the protection and safety of the bus captains and also for the safety of commuters," he said.