Cow Beh Cow Bu

New Foreign Bus Operators’ Pay Packages Show the Failure of NTUC as a Labour Union

ELSON: We’ve been told this for years – NTUC as a labour union has a cooperative relationship with the government and private companies for the benefit of workers in Singapore. NTUC doesn’t play an adversarial role because disharmony will affect livelihoods. But as a labour union, how effective has NTUC been in helping workers in Singapore?

Just recently, NTUC’s Assistant Secretary-General Zainal Sapari blasted the National Wage Council because its recommendations to employers to increase working class wages aren’t working. He also blamed companies outsourcing jobs for depressing wages (which in my opinion is a load of bull).

And he said this in a blog post.

This is what the Manpower Ministry says about the National Wage Council’s recommendation:

“The Government supports the NWC’s recommendation for employers to grant a built-in wage increase of at least $60 for workers earning a basic monthly salary of up to $1,100. This makes it clear that there should be continued efforts to improve wage outcomes for low-wage workers.

The Government has adopted a multi-pronged approach to help low-wage workers improve their wages. This includes strong funding for skills upgrading through the Workfare Training Support (WTS) Scheme. The Government recognises the need to complement these efforts with the direct commitment of employers to improve wages.”

And after all that, here come two private bus operators to show you how much nonsense is enshrined in all these “recommendations” and “collaborative relationship” with private firms.

British bus company Go-Ahead, which has just entered Singapore’s transport industry, has offered a starting salary of S$1865 for bus drivers that sign up to work for the firm. Let’s compare this with our entrenched local transport operators. SBS Transit’s starting pay for a Singaporean driver is S$1,775, while SMRT’s is S$1,625.

Takes a foreigner to show up our local firms, eh? No, it takes TWO foreigners.

Last year, Australian transport operator Tower Transit already offered a S$1865 starting pay for its drivers. Looks like SBS and SMRT either haven’t adjusted, or refused to adjust their salary scales to match anything that the foreigners are offering.

Besides pay alone, these foreign transport operators are offering a host of family-friendly benefits, such as up to 26 weeks of maternity leave, which would make it easier for staff to actually build a proper work-life balance.

Meanwhile, SBS and SMRT say that if their bus drivers work harder and longer, they can potentially earn as much as drivers working for Tower Transit or Go-Ahead.

It’s a free market and private firms are inherently profit-seeking. That’s why the NTUC has to play a greater role as a union to seek the best benefits for its workers. We can’t expect some foreign white knights to swoop in, shake up the industry and show people in Singapore just what they’re missing.

Oh wait, they just did.



  1. Tyl

    February 17, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    Higher wages can be offered because the financing framework for the new operators selected by the tendering process is different.

  2. henry

    February 18, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    Its the HR practices that differentiate local companies and
    others. Companies here cant give 2 hoots about ethical HR practices. 13 month ( AWS) is considered a big deal… 2 weeks
    annual leave is like squeezing blood from stone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

To Top