SBS Transit refers wage dispute to arbitration court

Public transport operator SBS Transit (SBST) has referred some issues in a dispute with five of its bus drivers to the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC). The Government, labour movement and employers' federation backed the move, but the drivers' lawyer disagreed.

The drivers have made claims in the State Courts that raise questions about prescribed rest days and overtime pay, SBST said yesterday.

It has referred these claims to the IAC because they raise issues involving the collective agreements between SBST and the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU).

"In accordance with the law, in the interests of all of SBST's bus captains and in keeping with the letter and spirit of its excellent relationship with the NTWU, SBST will be referring these issues to the IAC for its decision," the company said.

The drivers sued SBST last month, claiming it paid them below the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) regulated rate for overtime work, and that their working hour records do not match the monthly pay slips they were given.

Yesterday, the Singapore National Employers Federation said SBST's application to the IAC is a "responsible and appropriate step to take", while NTWU said the IAC is the appropriate platform for disputes on employment matters.

The MOM called it a constructive move. The terms of the collective agreement affect not just the five drivers, but also about 6,000 SBST bus drivers, it added.

"The IAC is a more appropriate forum to deal with this matter as it is a specialised court to arbitrate on industrial disagreements and it serves to maintain industrial peace," the ministry said. "The IAC's interpretation on the collective agreement will provide finality and certainty on the issue for all."

The collective agreement is certified by the IAC, and its president's decision cannot be appealed against. Lawyers are barred from the IAC.

The drivers' lawyer, Mr M. Ravi of Carson Law Chambers, said his clients filed their claims in the State Courts after talks with the company and the union were exhausted.

He said the IAC should be used when there is a deadlock between the employer and NTWU. He also said SBST, by filing its defence, had submitted to the jurisdiction of the State Courts.

"To respect the rule of law and the jurisdiction of the court, the redress ought to continue in the court and can be resolved amicably, if so desired, by utilising the mediation stage of the court process."

In response, SBST said referring the specified issue to the IAC has "nothing to do with mediation".

It is to interpret collective agreements which have been called into question, said its spokesman.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2019, with the headline 'SBS Transit refers wage dispute to arbitration court'. Print Edition | Subscribe