SMRT told to take greater care with HR matters

Just as transport operator SMRT must stay on top of its maintenance regime, so too must it take care with human resource matters, said Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo yesterday.

She was replying to a question on whether the Ministry of Transport was concerned about the illegal strike of SMRT's bus drivers coming so soon after its train services broke down last December.

A committee of inquiry into the train disruptions had found the transport operator largely to blame. Following the December incidents, it embarked on a series of upgrading and maintenance measures.

Ms Teo said that as an essential service provider, SMRT must handle its human resource matters with greater care.

She said the Transport Ministry and Land Transport Authority expect SMRT to "take a very serious view" of issues in human resource, maintenance and all other areas that they may need to improve on to continue providing a high level of service to commuters.

She added that her ministry will be in close contact with SMRT to understand exactly what steps it is taking.

The role of the operator in the illegal strike was something reporters raised several times during yesterday's press conference.

Asked to elaborate on the company's lapses, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said "the conversation is ongoing".

His ministry is aware of some of the grievances that the bus drivers highlighted, and he noted that SMRT is also aware of them, has taken on board feedback and is making improvements.

"The issue is really why did this happen, why was it allowed to fester?" he said. "We do understand that the channels of communications are there. So the question is, did it filter upwards? It did not filter upwards. Why not?"

He welcomed measures that SMRT has since put in place, such as more feedback channels like a round-the-clock hotline for drivers and a team of liaison officers that drivers can approach if they have problems.

As to whether they are enough, he said there will be medium-term and longer-term steps that will need to be taken, and his ministry will monitor this.

But he also took pains to stress that what happened at SMRT also holds lessons for other companies.

As part of good management and HR practices, companies should always ensure lines of communication are kept open and that they have proper grievance handling procedures in place, he said.

There are many practices not required by law that "any good company should have to fulfil", including how a firm manages its employees and looks out for their welfare.

"Frankly it's common sense," Mr Tan said. "Companies are expected to do that and we constantly would want to promote good HR practices in all companies."

In a statement yesterday, an SMRT spokesman acknowledged that the operator needed to improve its management, communication and engagement efforts to be more proactive, responsible and sensitive to the needs of its drivers.

Thanking all SMRT drivers for their continued hard work, she said the operator would continue to actively engage drivers at all levels to address their concerns holistically.