SBS Transit (SBST) has said that it is “deeply disappointed” by “scandalous and baseless allegations” made by eight bus drivers after the drivers applied to quash a decision by the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC) in a wage dispute.
In September, a group of five SBST bus drivers claimed that the public transport operator paid them overtime pay below the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) regulated rate for overtime work and that that they had to work for more than a week without a rest day. Last month, three more drivers joined the lawsuit against SBST.
All eight drivers are represented by Mr M Ravi, who is arguing that his clients worked more than 44 hours a week and were not paid adequate overtime pay, contravening the Employment Act. The bus drivers are seeking damages to be assessed for wages, statutory interest of 5.33 per cent every year and costs.
In October, SBST referred the wage dispute claims brought on by the first five drivers to the IAC, which controls and directs industrial practices and mediates on industrial clashes, arguing that the case concerned matters that arose from collective agreements that SBST entered into with the National Transport Workers’ Union.
The IAC later ruled that the bus drivers’ terms are equal to or more favourable than those they are entitled to under the Employment Act and that SBST acted in compliance with the Act since the drivers were given 45 minutes of daily break times.
In November, IAC President Justice Chan Seng Onn said that the workers are not working more than eight hours a day or 44 hours a week, but worked 43.5 hours a week, in compliance with the Employment Act when their daily breaks were deducted. He added that the Employment Act’s definition of “working hours” excluded break times.
SBST said that it is “very proud” of how it has acted in drivers’ interests, after the IAC decision was released.
The drivers, however, have called the IAC decision “irrational” and have applied to have the decision quashed. Asserting that the IAC exceeded its jurisdiction, the drivers are arguing that the court decision was one-sided.
In an affidavit filed in the High Court last Thursday (16 Jan), the drivers pointed out that the decision was based solely on samples of rosters and employment contracts for bus captains supplied by SBS Transit, which was then applied indiscriminately to all bus drivers.
The drivers’ affidavit stated: “This is clearly irrational, as it does not take into account rosters and contracts of bus captains who allege otherwise.”
The drivers also said that the IAC “jumped the gun” in making a decision on whether SBST’s practices complied with employment provisions since a higher court should have first judged whether SBST had breached the Employment Act before referring the case to the IAC.
In response to the drivers’ latest application, SBST has said that it is “deeply disappointed” that the eight bus drivers have made “scandalous and baseless” public allegations against the IAC.
Asserting that SBST has acted properly and has complied with the law at all times, SBST’s senior vice-president of corporate communications Tammy Tan told the Straits Times that the transport company is reviewing the affidavit and will “robustly defend” the application.
Labelling the drivers’ allegations “outrageous and baseless”, Ms Tan added: “There is also no basis for the allegation that the IAC’s decision was ‘controversial’ or that the IAC had exceeded its jurisdiction or was irrational in its decision or that it was ‘one-sided’.”
The eight drivers are expected to go to trial with their civil lawsuit if SBST does not settle the case amicably during mediation. A pre-trial conference for the legal challenge against the IAC decision is scheduled for 4 Feb.