SINGAPORE: Bus drivers hired by Tower Transit, which will run 26 services from 2016, will get a monthly basic starting pay of S$1,865, the London-based transport operator said on Thursday (Nov 12).
Channel NewsAsia understands that this amount is higher than what is offered by SMRT and SBS Transit.
Bus drivers with Tower Transit can earn up to S$3,000 a month in overtime pay. All drivers will get to travel for free on all buses and MRT trains as well. Women drivers who are Singaporean citizens or Permanent Residents will get 26 weeks of maternity leave, which is more than the current 16 weeks of Government-paid leave. All staff can also upgrade their skills, including applying for sponsorship to enrol in degree courses.
Their jobs will be redesigned, taking away the need for drivers to refuel, clean and park buses at the end of the day. A separate team from Tower Transit will take over these duties, and bus drivers can save up to 1.5 hours per day, the firm said.
Tower Transit drivers will need to observe strict service standards as well. Bus movements, such as sharp braking or a sudden burst of speed, will be tracked by black boxes installed in the vehicles. Drivers who meet certain quality standards can receive an extra S$130 a month.
However, their overall work performance will not impact their wage increases. Instead, it is based on overall pay raises in Singapore.
The new employment terms were developed by Tower Transit together with the National Transport Workers Union (NTWU).
COMMUNICATION WITH COMMUTERS ALSO ASSESSED
Tower Transit said it will also assess how its drivers communicate with commuters.
"Communication is obviously a very important thing. When you've got customers, sometimes they have a question, they need an answer. And we'll certainly be looking to train drivers wherever possible at least be able to have basic language skills and communication abilities. And we'll also be assessing the friendliness of our drivers and interaction, and the experience they give to passengers," said Mr Adam Leishman, Tower Transit Singapore CEO.
The transport operator also said it has heard the concerns of bus drivers whose services were affected by its takeover. The London-based operator was awarded the first deal under the new Government contracting model for the bus industry. Tower Transit will operate buses which serve the Bukit Batok, Clementi and Jurong East interchanges.
Tower Transit said it has spoken to about 500 affected drivers from SBS Transit and SMRT.
It will need to employ about 750 bus drivers by mid-2016. The bulk of the recruitment process will take place between January and March next year. During the same period, new employees will also go through courses and training. So far, Tower Transit has interviewed nearly 400 prospective staff.
The transition of the bus services to Tower Transit will take place over three tranches from mid-2016, said the Land Transport Authority.
NTWU SATISFIED WITH EMPLOYMENT PACKAGE
NTWU said it is satisfied with the overall employment package offered by Tower Transit. Some bus drivers who have moved to Tower Transit told Channel NewsAsia that they found the leave benefits and work environment to be more attractive.
The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Tower Transit and the union on Thursday marked an agreement on the employment terms for affected workers. It is understood that those affected have been informed of the package; however Tower Transit is unable to say for now how many will accept the offer.
"We have had some very positive feedback so far, and we are not able to share exact numbers but we will making a statement in the next week or two," said Mr Leishman.
Some bus drivers who moved to Tower Transit said they were attracted by career progression prospects and that drivers need not deal with tasks such as refuelling and cleaning.
Mr Kalidass Savrimuthoo, who has 19 years of driving experience, left SBS Transit in September.
"From my experience, if I'm on the night shift, a lot of time is wasted queuing up to refuel and park the bus. You will need to wait for at least 30 to 40 minutes. In that time, you can reach home, and get more rest," he said.
Others found the 26 weeks of maternity leave appealing.
"I just got married last year. We plan to have a baby, so (with) this maternity leave, (it's) better for me to spend more time together with the baby," said Ms Lim Lee Ping, a bus captain with Tower Transit.
"This is a very family-friendly package, which will ensure that your family will be well taken care of, and that will give you a peace of mind to ensure that you can really put your heart into your work without worrying about the needs of your family," said Mr Erman Tan, President of the Singapore Human Resources Institute.
However, an expert said the remuneration package might still not be enough to entice Singaporeans.
Dr Park Byung Joon, Adjunct Associate Professor at UniSIM, said while the salary increase Tower Transit is offering is between 5 and 10 per cent, market forces will eventually show whether or not that amount is sufficient.
"My feeling and opinion and instinct is that it may be enough for the existing bus drivers who are thinking about moving from the existing operators to Tower Transit, but my concern is whether this is high enough to persuade Singaporeans who are not bus drivers to become bus drivers," he said.