Thursday 6 December 2012

SMRT drivers' illegal strike a wake-up call for all companies: Tan Chuan-Jin

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 4 Dec 2012

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said on Tuesday the illegal strike by bus drivers isn't just a lesson for SMRT, but it also acts as a wake-up call for all companies.

In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia, Mr Tan also responded to findings in a snap poll conducted by government feedback agency REACH on the illegal strike by the SMRT bus drivers.

In the REACH poll of 313 Singaporeans, 56 per cent agreed with the government for taking the time to ascertain the facts before labelling the action as an illegal strike.

Mr Tan explained how the decision was made.

Mr Tan said: "From my perspective, it seemed quite clear that this is probably a strike, but at the same time I think we wanted to make sure that we understood exactly what the facts were, what the circumstances were, how it was unfolding. Because I think once you label it a strike, there will be a whole series of actions that need to take place. So I think it is not something trivial, and we wanted to be sure that that was indeed what it was, and we were prepared to carry out the follow-on actions.

"Secondly, I was also very mindful that when you declare that a strike, then do you have your policies in place, the follow-on actions ready? What if there were repercussions? Because whenever you make a certain decision, there will be reactions. Are you ready to deal with those consequences? Are you ready to deal with those reactions?

"So you want to make sure that your assets are in place, people are clear what they need to do following on from that, and thereafter really to find the right time to make the announcement.

"So I think we were quite deliberate, I was quite deliberate in the whole process, but it was important for us to come out quite definitively to declare it for what it was. And I think we decided eventually sometime towards the latter half of the second day. But I understand the concerns that some Singaporeans have. But I was mindful of when, I was mindful that it was important to be quite clear about this. But I think we wanted to be quite deliberate in the process and I think we decided to make the decision on the second day and to declare it as such."

On SMRT management's outreach to the bus drivers following the illegal strike, Mr Tan said the atmosphere has been positive and constructive.

Mr Tan said: "My sense of it is that there are deeper issues that we need to look at... it is something that they need quite a fair bit of introspection, and to reflect on what they need to do. And that is something that I think we will work closely with them to understand what else needs to be done."

He added that this episode was also a wake-up call for all companies.

Mr Tan said: "This is Management 101. This is what you expect of any good employer - to look after their workers, whether local or otherwise. Are the terms and conditions fair, and if there are differences and so on, how do you make sure that you explain to them so that they understand why those differences exist? Are there avenues for complaints and so on available? Are they working the way they are supposed to and so on? And these are things which I think all companies should pay attention to.

He emphasised that there are rules and regulations to deal with grievances and frustrations whether they be from employees or employers.

"It's a wake-up call for companies to pay attention to these things, so I think that is something constructive that we can get out of this whole episode. So much as we understand the grievances raised, but as my message was quite clear, it is that we understand that there are frustrations and there are frustrations across the workforce at every level whether with local employees or otherwise. And there are complaints from the employers' side as well. There are many different episodes, but there are rules and regulations that govern how we should all act."

Mr Tan said: "And going on strike, or an illegal strike, is certainly not a line that we should cross, because it has a lot of ramifications. So that is something that is not trivial."

He added that while the illegal strike has happened, Singapore has very harmonious working relations with generally fair and reasonable Singaporean employers, and a lot of foreign workers who are responsible in carrying out their duties.

Illegal strike a wake-up call: Amy Khor
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 5 Dec 2012

Minister of State for Manpower Dr Amy Khor said results of a poll on the government feedback portal - REACH - regarding the recent illegal strike in Singapore, showed that Singaporeans are concerned the incident will damage industrial harmony and investor confidence here.

She was speaking on the sidelines of a community event at Hong Kah Primary School on Wednesday.

REACH's findings showed that nearly eight in 10 Singaporeans agreed that the bus drivers from China, should be punished if they breached Singapore laws.

About the same number (nearly eight in 10) also agreed that while the drivers' actions were wrong, their employer, SMRT, should also bear responsibility for what had happened.

Feedback collected from the poll also included suggestions from Singaporeans on how to prevent a recurrence of the incident.

Suggestions included setting up formal channels to air grievances and inviting foreign workers to attend classes that will help them better understand the culture, value system, and employment practices in Singapore.

Dr Khor, who's also chairman of REACH, said the incident should be a "wake-up call" for all companies and not to take industrial harmony for granted.

She added that employers too have to be vigilant, and ensure good and progressive management as well as HR practices.

She also emphasized the need to have proper channels for workers to air their grievances.

"Companies need to ensure that the lines of communication remain open, so that grievances can be floated up to management and they can take prompt action. Labour and employment grievances should not be left to fester for a period of time," she said.

Dr Khor added the government's decision to call the incident an "illegal strike" was not a trivial matter and that it had carefully considered the facts and circumstances before initiating any action.

"Once that is established, there is a series of actions that we must be prepared to follow through and carry out in order to resolve the matter expeditiously, as we have done," she said.

Most Singaporeans support punishment for SMRT drivers: poll
By Sharon See, Channel NewsAsia, 4 Dec 2012

The government's feedback channel REACH conducted a snap poll to find out how Singaporeans felt about the illegal strike by SMRT bus drivers from China on 26 and 27 November.

It also found that nearly eight in 10 Singaporeans agreed that the bus drivers should be punished fully if they have breached Singapore laws.

Many Singaporeans seemed to be aware of the illegal strike with an average of 85 per cent of respondents indicating awareness.

REACH polled 313 Singaporeans who are 15 years old and above between 30 November and 2 December.

56 per cent agreed with the government for taking time to ascertain the facts before labelling the action as an illegal strike.

76 per cent felt the government had acted swiftly in bringing the situation under control.

Channel NewsAsia spoke to several commuters who also echoed these views.

Chow Yit Mei, a teacher, said: ""Given the time they need to take into consideration what went on, they need to go through the processes, I think the time given that they have acted was quite swift."

Jayson Khong, an engineer, said: "Regardless of whether they are from China or other nationalities, they have to abide by the laws. Any concern, I believe that they should not just go on strike, but consult with the management. I believe the government has handled the issue quite professionally, in that they have taken action and they have gone through the rightful procedure."

Mohd Amin, People's Association staff, RC Manager, said: "We being a law-abiding nation, so anything out of the law, you have to face the consequences."

The media in China had reported that Singaporeans felt sympathetic towards the drivers after details about their salary came to light.

But an average of 74 per cent of those polled felt the bus drivers from China should have gone through the proper channels to air their grievances.

Commuters also felt that SMRT could have done more.

And this was also reflected in the poll in which 76 per cent agree that while the drivers were in the wrong to have staged a strike, SMRT should bear some responsibility as it did not manage the grievances of the drivers well.

Anne Lim, a consultant, said: "They are complaining about the dormitory, the places they are living in, not in a good condition. They should look into that."

R Partipan, a freelancer, said: "They should have laid out their cards well before recruiting them and should have told them about the pay scale between Singaporean drivers, Malaysian drivers and China drivers."

In response to the poll findings, SMRT acknowledged the need to improve its management and communication efforts to be more attuned to the needs of its drivers.

The company said since the incident, it has beefed up its engagement efforts through hotlines and having representatives on the ground.

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