All SMRT bus services running as scheduled

Drivers who went on strike return to work, except for 6 with valid reasons

ALL SMRT bus drivers who went on strike returned to work yesterday, except six whom the operator said had provided valid reasons.

SMRT said all bus services ran as scheduled, after two days of delays on some routes when drivers refused to work on Monday and Tuesday in protest over their salaries and living conditions.

Police yesterday called in 20 SMRT bus drivers from China who had gone on strike on both days to assist in investigations.

In response to queries, a spokesman said police are currently investigating. He added: "We are unable to comment further as investigations are still ongoing and we should let it run its course."

On Monday, 171 Chinese national drivers refused to work. Eighty-eight followed suit on Tuesday.

Yesterday morning, shuttle buses departed from the Woodlands dormitory at 4.10am and 5.10am with a full load of drivers, in contrast to Monday and Tuesday.

In Serangoon, drivers boarded the shuttle buses while being watched by two police officers.

Each driver was given a notice written in Chinese before they boarded the bus. The note, issued by SMRT, gave an account of events of the past two days, referred to the police investigation and stated that SMRT intended to find out who instigated the strike.

In an interview yesterday evening, SMRT executive vice- president (roads and commercial) Teo Chew Hoon sought to address concerns raised by its Chinese drivers. She said SMRT would "do our utmost" to make immediate improvements to drivers' living conditions, including fumigating the rooms to eliminate bed bugs and moving them out of the dormitories when the leases expire.

She said SMRT would also review the contracts of its Chinese drivers, improve communication channels and hold special dialogues for them.

In the evening, one Chinese driver who declined to be named welcomed news of the company's pledge to improve living conditions and review wages. He said: "I believe things will get better."

Another driver who stays in the Woodlands dormitory said: "It's good that they are making changes. Over here, it's very crowded in the rooms."

A Chinese driver in his 40s said: "We don't need exactly the same salary as the other foreign drivers, we just hope for it to be almost the same.

"We did not expect things to get so big and to get so much media attention."

A driver in his 50s said he does not intend to renew his contract, which expires in 50 days, because "too much has happened".

In a statement on its website, the Chinese Embassy said it hoped the drivers would abide by Singapore's laws and make requests through the proper channels to avoid affecting commuters.

Additional reporting by Poon Chian Hui and Lisabel Ting