SBS Transit drivers apply to quash court's decision

In court documents seen by The Straits Times, the drivers argued, among other things, that the Industrial Arbitration Court's decision was "irrational" and exceeded its jurisdiction.
In court documents seen by The Straits Times, the drivers argued, among other things, that the Industrial Arbitration Court's decision was "irrational" and exceeded its jurisdiction.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Industrial Arbitration Court had ruled SBST's contracts do not breach Employment Act

Eight bus drivers who sued SBS Transit (SBST) 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, the IAC president, Justice Chan Seng Onn, issued a written decision that said SBST'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 yesterday, 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 bus captains' employment contracts, 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.

It 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 SBST'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 SBST 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 said 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'."

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

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

Five of them had first filed claims against SBST in the State Courts last September, 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.

Last December, a second group of three drivers also sued SBST 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 SBST fails to settle the case amicably during mediation.

Yesterday, 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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2020, with the headline 'SBS Transit drivers apply to quash court's decision'. Print Edition | Subscribe