SBS Transit lawsuit: 8 bus drivers apply to quash court decision on rest days, overtime dispute

The drivers had claimed their employer SBS Transit underpaid them for overtime work and that they had to work for more than a week without a rest day. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Eight bus drivers who sued SBS Transit over rest days and overtime pay have now filed an application to quash a decision by the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC).

The drivers, all represented by lawyer M. Ravi of Carson Law Chambers, had claimed their employer underpaid them for overtime work and that they had to work for more than a week without a rest day.

After a hearing in November last year, Justice Chan Seng Onn, who is IAC president, issued a written decision that said SBS Transit's collective agreements, or contracts, with the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) had not breached the Employment Act.

In court documents seen by The Straits Times on Friday (Jan 17), the drivers argued, among other things, that the IAC's decision was "irrational" and exceeded its jurisdiction.

They said the IAC's decision was one-sided as it was based solely on samples of rosters and employment contracts for bus captains provided by SBS Transit, which it then extrapolated to all bus captains.

"This is clearly irrational, as it does not take into account rosters and contracts of bus captains who allege otherwise," they said in an affidavit filed with the High Court on Thursday.

They added that although there were two parties that made submissions to the IAC, the other being the NTWU, both parties held essentially the same position.

"It confounds logic that there is any 'dispute' that would arise between these aforesaid parties. The IAC cannot resolve this 'dispute' in any rational sense."

The drivers also argued that IAC had exceeded its jurisdiction under the Industrial Relations Act by considering whether SBS Transit's practices were in compliance with employment provisions.

They cited Section 56 of the Act, which states that a court has the power to order compliance with an award "proved to have been broken or not observed".

They argued that the IAC had "jumped the gun" as it had not been established that SBS Transit was in breach of relevant provisions in the Employment Act.

Instead, a higher court should first deliver judgment as to whether there has been a breach before referring the case to the IAC, they argued.

In response to queries from ST, Ms Tammy Tan, senior vice-president of corporate communications at SBST, said it was reviewing the affidavit and will "robustly defend" the application.

Calling the allegations "outrageous and baseless", she added that SBST had acted properly and in accordance with the law at all times.

"There is also no basis for the allegation that the IAC's decision was 'controversial' or that the IAC had exceeded its jurisdiction or was irrational in its decision or that it was 'one-sided'," said Ms Tan.

She added that SBST was "deeply disappointed" that the eight bus captains have made "scandalous and baseless allegations" against the IAC publicly.

The group of eight bus drivers taking legal action against SBS Transit consist of three Singaporeans and five Malaysians.

Five of them had first filed claims against SBS Transit in the State Courts in September last year, after which the public transport operator referred the terms of its collective agreements with the NTWU to the IAC for interpretation.

The IAC serves as a "last resort" for resolving industrial disputes.

In November, Justice Chan said that the collective agreements had been complied with and the terms relating to rest days were not in breach of the Employment Act.

The IAC gave its interpretation of terms in the collective agreements, but did not hear the case filed by the drivers against SBS Transit.

In December, a second group of three drivers also sued SBS Transit for similar claims regarding overtime work and rest days.

At that time, the first group of five drivers had agreed to try mediation, which is still scheduled to take place next month.

Mr Ravi had said his clients would proceed with their civil lawsuit and go to trial if SBS Transit fails to settle the case amicably during mediation.

On Friday, he told ST that the pre-trial conference for the challenge against the IAC decision is scheduled for Feb 4 at 2.30pm.

Additional reporting by Rei Kurohi

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