102 SMRT bus drivers protest against pay

About 100 SMRT bus drivers recruited from China have agreed to go back to work today, after day-long talks with the bus operator over salary, and work and living issues.

The 102 drivers had refused to show up for work yesterday, resulting in a number of bus services being affected.

Last night, SMRT apologised to commuters and the public for the inconvenience caused.

A spokesman said SMRT had recently given salary increments to all drivers who joined the company before July this year.

The 102 drivers from China were not happy with their increment, she said. "We regret that they chose to express their unhappiness about their salaries in this manner, especially when our lines of communication with them are always open," she added.

SMRT has about 2,000 bus drivers - compared to competitor SBS Transit's 5,300 - of which about 450 are from China.

Talks between management and the disaffected drivers started in the morning, and ended at about 6pm.

The protest began before dawn, when workers at the company's rented dormitory in Woodlands Sector 1 refused to start their morning shift. More workers travelled from another dormitory near Serangoon Garden to join the sit-in by mid-morning. Later, some who were on the afternoon shift also joined in.

At around 10am, police were called in, while SMRT scrambled to call back drivers on their day off to fill in for the absentees.

As the day progressed, tension mounted and red police riot trucks arrived. The police said 45 officers were deployed, but they did not have to intervene.

The incident ended at about 6pm, when the drivers said they would return to work today and that SMRT management had promised to look into their grouses. This included how Malaysian drivers were getting paid more.

A driver from China, who did not want to be named, said: "The company should not discriminate between us and the Malaysian drivers. This is most important. Their salary has increased much more than ours, but we work as long as them and we work harder than them."

Another China-born driver said they earn about $1,100 before overtime.

The sit-in brought swift censure from various quarters, who said the drivers should have sought less disruptive means to address their unhappiness.

The Manpower Ministry, which helped with talks, said it takes the workers' actions "very seriously". A spokesman said "workers are advised to speak to management to discuss and resolve any employment-related issues amicably, rather than take matters into their own hands".

The National Transport Workers' Union said aggrieved workers can approach the ministry or Migrant Workers Centre for help.



Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.