SINGAPORE - SBS Transit will help its staff sue their abusers in court - if they wish to - by appointing and paying for lawyers, following a spate of abuse cases recently.
In a statement on Thursday (Sept 17), the transport company said it does not "tolerate any abuse against its staff and will fully back any staff who wishes to defend their rights beyond the criminal justice system and file for civil action".
The company said it would help "victimised staff navigate the legal system, including appointing representation as well as undertaking the costs".
The company disclosed that there had been numerous acts of violence against its front-line staff, particularly in relation to the enforcement of the mask-up rule.
The latest incident was on Tuesday when a commuter, who was not wearing a mask, hurled vulgarities at a 39-year-old bus driver and punched him repeatedly on the head.
The driver was given three days of medical leave, while the man was charged with voluntarily causing hurt and possession of an offensive weapon for having a knife with a 6cm-long blade on him.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung also denounced the attack in a Facebook post on Thursday, calling it "disturbing" and "despicable."
He learnt of the incident during a dialogue with SMRT staff on Wednesday. One issue clearly on the minds of the workers during the dialogue was difficult commuters who do not wear masks or do not wear them properly, he said.
"Transport service staff are doing their job, making sure the system is safe for all of us. We all have a responsibility to wear a mask in public - a simple civic duty," said Mr Ong.
"Such blatant disregard for fellow commuters, and assaulting a bus captain who was doing his job, is despicable," he said.
He commended SBS Transit for fully backing their employees.
SBS Transit highlighted two other abuse cases last month in which commuters verbally and physically abused bus drivers who were enforcing the mask rule.
On Aug 20, a commuter berated a bus driver and grabbed his shirt after the driver advised him to wear his mask properly.
The day before, another commuter who was wearing a neck gaiter filmed himself making disparaging remarks about a bus driver, who was trying to clarify if neck gaiters could be used in place of masks.
SBS Transit's acting chief executive Cheng Siak Kian condemned the attacks as uncalled for and said they should stop.
"Our people go to work every day to do their jobs - including enforcing strict rules and regulations. To be called names, abused or even attacked for asking someone to put on a mask, or pay the correct fare, is wrong.
"In severe cases like the incident on (Tuesday), we will not hesitate to provide all assistance, including appointing lawyers to help him sue his assailant for all damages and losses incurred by him," Mr Cheng said.
In a statement with SBS Transit, the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) said it hopes that the charging of the 52-year-old man "sends a strong signal to all that such acts of abuse will not be condoned".
NTWU executive secretary Melvin Yong said: "Moving forward, the union will continue to work closely with the authorities and the different public transport operators to examine how we can step up on deterrence measures to further protect our public transport workers."