MOM Did Not Help Us: A Petition to Nowhere

The authorities’ emphasis on ‘proper channels’ for aggrieved workers since the SMRT bus drivers’ strike influences public opinion about workers taking collective action beyond state-sanctioned boundaries. Rhetoric about ‘legitimate processes and avenues’ raises political questions about the effectiveness of such processes, not just from a legal perspective, but a justice-oriented one. In situations where power relations are grossly asymmetrical, how do existing channels operate? Does our grievance culture mitigate against just outcomes for workers, despite there being ‘laws in place’? Are there discrepancies between enforcement measures and employment laws, to the detriment of workers? What are workers’ own perceptions of these ‘proper channels’ and how have their own experiences with mediating authorities affected their confidence (or lack thereof) in such processes? If indeed there are systemic flaws in our labour relations framework that disadvantage workers, what manner of social and political reforms are required to bring about fairer workplaces?

Workfair believes these are critical questions for Singapore and all who work and live here. We also note that despite the intense media attention on SMRT and the strike, details of recruitment processes, working conditions and workers’ negotiations with management and state authorities, from the perspective of SMRT bus drivers, remain scant. Here is our first story, told to us by a former SMRT bus driver (there are more to come).

In early 2010, about 200 migrant Chinese bus drivers from SMRT wrote and submitted a petition to the Ministry of Manpower to seek redress for their grievances. Workfair understands that several workers who were involved in the industrial action in November last year also signed this petition.

The bus drivers who signed the petition were unhappy that their living conditions were poor, their passports were kept by the company and that they were discriminated against in annual bonus payments. They also complained that the contracts which they signed in China were different to the one that SMRT offered them when they arrived in Singapore.

40 year old Lin Hui, who was with SMRT for two years, told us that the decision to write the petition was borne out of the drivers’ frustrations that requests for their concerns to be addressed went unheeded.

“We were ignored when we spoke to the management, and when some of us approached the union, they said that since we are from China and are ‘contract workers’, they were unable to assist us.”

When the petition was submitted to the Ministry of Manpower, a meeting was arranged and Lin Hui was there to meet with the officer assigned to the case. According to him, the Ministry of Manpower did not do much to assist. The officer informed him that the only thing the MOM could do was to help them retrieve their passports, and that they had to resolve the rest of the issues raised in the petition by themselves with the company. Even so, their passports remained with the company and were not returned to them. Frustrated with the outcome of the complaint, Lin Hui resigned shortly after and went back to China.

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(SCANNED IMAGE OF THE PETITION: Click to enlarge)

~ Below is an English translation of the petition ~

A letter to the Ministry of Manpower

Respected leadership,

We are more than two hundred SMRT bus drivers from China, and there are some problems that we hope the Ministry of Manpower can come forward to help us resolve:

1)     The dormitories provided by the company does not allow for normal rest, which has resulted in us having to start the day and perform a highly dangerous job with fatigued bodies and bleary eyes.  (Because of our inconsistent work schedules, we interrupt each other’s rest time.)

Reason:

We are drivers and we drive buses that have many Singaporean passengers. We cannot show any trace of fatigue as even a blink of an eye may lead to an accident and cause the death of dozens of people, resulting in the loss of happiness for many families. If we fall asleep, the consequences would be unthinkable! As such, we can afford to only drink and not eat, but we cannot afford to not have a normal environment to rest in. <To observe and understand our specific circumstances, please go to 27 woodlands sector 1 #02-70 singapore 738252>

2)     To receive the bonuses which are rightfully ours.

Reasons:

a)     We are official employees who have gone through the probation period. Where not addressed and stipulated in the contract, we should receive the same treatment as other workers.

b)     Our company’s annual notice of the award of bonuses is addressed to all workers in the company, and does not mention the exception of Chinese workers.

c)     In December 2008, when the company was giving out bonuses, we had asked the company about matters relating to our bonuses, and the company’s reply was: Chinese workers will receive bonuses for two years as a lump sum when they have completed their 2 year contract and are about to return to their country.

3)     To retrieve our passports for going home to settle any matters or for going overseas for a holiday.

Reasons:

a)     Passports are personal documents. (Apart from the issuing authority, no other units and organs are allowed to withhold this document.)

b)     We have holidays and money to buy tickets. We are here to work and not to be imprisoned.

4)     Insist that the company produce the contract which we signed and fingerprinted at the point of recruitment in China.

Reasons:

a)     The photocopied version of the contract issued by the company is inconsistent with the original contract.

b)     We only recognize the contract which was signed in China.

We hope and look forward to the resolution of these issues. Thank you!

Below are the workers’ name list and signatures. [Not shown to protect the workers’ identities]

~ ARTICLE IN CHINESE ~

SMRT公交车长罢工事件后,有关部门强调员工需通过‘合法渠道’表达不满的说法,不过旨在混淆视听罢了。此类‘合法渠道’的陈词滥调所凸显的,不仅是要从法律角度来探讨这类渠道的有效性,同时也要从社会公平的角度来看待问题。当劳资双方的力量悬殊,天平大幅倾向于企业的时候,这类‘合法渠道’究竟如何能有效完成‘下意上达’的功能?我们的‘调解文化’是否仅仅是针对员工的诉求,尽管我们还打着‘法制’的旗号?法制的存在,与其有效执行,两者之间是否存在差距,以至于员工总是陷于弱势一方?究竟员工是如何看待这些‘合法渠道’?他们使用这些‘合法渠道’与‘调解人员’的经验,究竟是好是坏?如何会影响他们对这类‘合法渠道’的信心?假设我们的劳资关系框架,确实存在着体制上的漏洞,以至于劳工总是陷于劣势,我们应当如何从社会和法律方面来着手改善这些问题?

Workfair 认为,以上这些问题,不论对新加坡人或外来劳工,都是极其重要的。我们也注意到,尽管媒体对此次SMRT罢工事件、SMRT的招聘过程、员工的生活条件、员工与管理层甚至有关部门的协商与申诉,可谓关注备至,但是却少有从当事人,即车长们的角度进行报导。这是我们的第一个从公交车长的角度探讨事件的故事。当然,往后还会有更多。

2010年初,大约200名SMRT属下的公交车长向人力部呈上了一封联名请愿书,内容主要是改善他们当时的一些状况。我们了解到去年参与罢工的一部分人,当时也签了这份联名请愿书。

签署这份请愿书的车长们,对当时的生活环境、公司扣留他们的护照、以及年中奖金等收入上的不公待遇,表示不满。他们也投诉说他们在中国签署的合同,与抵达新加坡后SMRT让他们另行签署的合同,内容并不相同。

现年40岁的林辉(译)告诉我们,当时打算写联名请愿书的动机,是因为他们的申诉并未得到管理层的回应,因此才有上告人力部的想法。

“当我们向管理层申诉时,他们不搭理我们。当一部分人去找工会寻求协助时,他们以‘我们是中国来的临时性合同工人’为理由,表示帮不了我们。”

当请愿书呈上人力部后,有关部门召开了一个会议,林辉也参与其中并与负责人会晤磋商。据林辉说,人力部并没有提供多达帮助。据负责人告诉他,人力部顶多只能帮他们取回护照,其他的问题他们必须自己与公司管理层协商解决。即便如此,他们最终并未取回护照。对此结果表示失望的林辉,最终在联名信事件不久后辞职回国。

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(请愿书电子扫描影像,请按此放大)

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Categories: SMRT

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