Bus captains with corporals' pay?

Bus captains with corporals' pay?

SINGAPORE - In the last several years, there have been many attempts to raise the status of bus drivers and the appeal of driving a bus as a career.

The need to do so came into sharp focus when 171 SMRT bus drivers from China went on strike over pay and living conditions in 2012.

Stricter regulations regarding the hiring of foreign workers, and Singapore's fast-expanding public bus fleet in the face of soaring ridership have also made this goal imperative.

This month, two more initiatives were rolled out.

Last week, SMRT and the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability joined hands to create a more structured career advancement path for drivers.

And this week, Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo announced steps to safeguard the job security and benefits of bus drivers in the new government contracting regime.

Bus contracting could see an operator losing certain route parcels if it fails to meet service standards. Mrs Teo said employees must be offered a job by firms which take over the routes of their current employers. And the terms cannot be worse than what the drivers have been enjoying.

On Thursday, a reader of The Straits Times also wrote in to remind the newspaper that it should refrain from calling bus drivers "bus drivers". They should be addressed, he said, as "bus captains" - a term coined by the operators some 15 years ago to make the job of piloting a bus more dignified.

While all these are admirable steps, the crux of the issue is still pay. Driving a bus does not pay very well.

For instance, before the latest round of adjustments made last year, SMRT drivers earned about $2,500 a month, including overtime pay.

After the adjustment, local drivers could earn around $3,600 with overtime. (Comparable rates at SBS Transit were not available, but the company said a local driver in his first year of work can earn $2,700 a month with overtime, based on a 52-hour week.)

It is painfully clear the pre-adjustment figure was dismal. The revised figure is a huge jump in percentage terms, and puts the earning of a driver in the ballpark of the national median income from work.

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