A former SMRT employee recalls her time at the company
The selection process was intense, the competition, stiff. So when M, a Chinese national, was told she had been picked for a job as a bus driver at Singapore’s SMRT, she was overjoyed. But despite paying hefty recruitment fees to her agent, M resigned two years later, disappointed and disillusioned.
The following is an account of M’s time at SMRT. She was with the company from 2009 to 2011.
The selection process
We had to go through an interview and road test before we met up with a representative from Singapore. There were many people applying for the job and they selected only a few. We had to go through the interview and road test first before they discussed the terms and conditions of the contract.
After we passed both tests, they selected nineteen out more than a hundred candidates. I was one of the nineteen. After that we proceeded with the signing of the employment contract.
I remember it was stated that our basic salary was $1050. During the first three months we would get $950 and after probation it would be $1050. We were entitled to a thirteenth-month bonus and company bonus. The company bonus would be dependent on the company’s performance. The company bonus would be distributed to us twice yearly and thirteenth-month bonus once a year.
We would also enjoy 14-days medical leave and 7-days annual leave. Two years after the contract, we would be given two weeks paid leave to visit our homeland if we renewed the contract. The employer would pay for the air ticket.
The contract then was in Chinese. We asked to keep a copy but they did not allow us to do that. We voiced our concerns but they just told us we would not have any problems if they kept the only copy. They said that they were from a government-linked company and thus they would not cheat us. It did not matter whether we got a copy of the contract. Thus, we signed the contract and they kept the signed copy.
In Singapore, were given a new contract written in English to sign. There was no Chinese translation. HR personnel simply told us that the English contract was equivalent to the Chinese version we signed in China. Some of us did not agree with this and asked to have the contract vetted by an outsider before signing. However, this request was turned down by HR. The reason given was that in Singapore, the contract had to be written in English, as they were unable to understand the Chinese version. After we signed the contract, we were not given any copies, not even a photocopied version, although we requested for one.
The recruitment fee
We came in to Singapore in batches. I think the main reason was because they [SMRT] had many recruitment agencies in China. We paid the agency in China a total of RMB43000. The cost of the air ticket was included in the agent’s fee.
We borrowed money from different sources. Most of us borrowed from relatives and friends. I did not borrow from the bank. I borrowed from friends and relatives.
Working in Singapore
[When I was in China…] I understood that I would work 44 hours a week and we would have a five-day work week. Saturday was an “off day” and Sunday was a “rest day”. During “off day”, the pay would be 1.5 times more [than regular days], and on “rest day” the pay would be 2 times more. From Monday to Saturday, if our working hours exceeded 44 hours, the extra hours would be paid at 1.5 times the rate of our basic salary. We were told that regular working hours would total 8 hr 48 mins each day.
We were told that if we wanted to make more money, we would need to work more extra hours.
The company failed to adjust our basic salary from $950 to $1050 after we completed our probation. They did not give us a proper explanation. We were pretty ignorant at that time as we had just arrived. It was a very sensitive issue.
They [ the agent] also took away all our passports. They told us it was the practice here for workers’ passports to be kept by their employer. We could not keep the passports ourselves.
Further, the company told us that those who misbehaved or asked too many questions would be repatriated. For example, there was a PRC driver who was dissatisfied with his accommodation due to a problem with bed bugs. He was repatriated a few days after complaining to the company. His name was Hu Xiu Wen.
I have no idea who made the decision to sack him. However, after this incident, we learnt a lesson. We could be seriously punished if we went against the company. It wasn’t worth sacrificing our agent fee of RMB43000 over such small issues. Thus, no matter what problems we encountered, we would not speak out as we could not afford to lose this huge sum of money.
Channels for redress?
We were promised a twice yearly company bonus. However, towards July, during our first year of service, local and Malaysian drivers were given the company bonus but not PRC workers. Many of my PRC colleagues queried this issue with HR. I personally called up the payroll department to ask about this too. The payroll personnel clarified that PRC drivers would only be paid at the end of their contractual service. Thus, we had to wait until end of the year to receive the company bonus as well as the thirteenth-month bonus. I accepted his clarification since he was in charge of our payroll. However, after completing our one-year service, we did not receive our bonuses, as promised verbally earlier. This was a big issue at the time as it was a lot of money to us. Our emotions were running high then.
The HR department organised a townhall meeting for the PRC workers and almost all of us attended the meeting. This was sometime in 2009 but I cannot recall the exact date. It was host by a HR manager by the name Derrick. During the meeting, he tried to comfort us by dismissing rumours that PRC drivers would get no company bonus. He told us that as long as we were well behaved, received no complaints and did not take sick leave, there was no issue that we would receive the company bonus. With this promise from the HR department, we were hopeful that we would receive the company bonus at the end of our contract. Thus, everyone tried to behave well. We avoided taking sick leave in order to fulfil the requirement for this company bonus.
At the end of 2010, the company held another townhall meeting with PRC drivers regarding terms and condition for the renewal of our contracts. We asked for our company bonus since it was promised earlier. However this time round, we were told that there was no company bonus for us. They said that PRC workers were not entitled to any company bonus at all. We were very upset upon hearing this. Many decided not to renew their contracts. Some of my colleagues even went to MOM to lodge complaints. The company informed us that should we renew our contracts, we would be entitled to a renewal incentive but not the company bonus, no matter how long we had worked for the company.
I resigned in February 2011. I felt very tired working in SMRT. Working overtime everyday made me very exhausted, I felt great pressure. If you wanted to make more money, you had to work lots of overtime. If not, the basic salary is only slightly over a thousand dollars. We had borrowed a lot of money in order to come here to work. However working long hours made me very exhausted.
There was some internal unfairness in the company. In order to have more overtime work, you had to build a good relationship with the supervisor who handled shift work. Some drivers were given the opportunity to make more money and some were not, thus it was pretty unfair. I felt unhappy and I was very tired of this.
I think in terms of policies about bonuses and other benefits, the company always excluded the PRC workers.
I felt a strong sense of discrimination against us. For example, when they put up the notice informing Singaporean and Malaysian drivers how much they were getting as company bonuses, they included a clause stating – “Except PRC workers”.
When I was working [at SMRT], I understood that some of the drivers went to the union to give feedback about this problem but in the end, nothing happened.
We were in a foreign country and felt very stressed out. We could not voice our grievances [to the company] unless we were ready to quit our jobs and go home. If we made ourselves heard, we faced the problem of being repatriated.
~ ARTICLE IN CHINESE ~
歧视、反控 与 报复
后来人事部就召开一个会议，几乎所有中国籍司机都出席了。会议是2009 年召开的，具体的日期我倒不记得了，是由一个名为Derrick 的人事部经理主持的。会上，他不断安抚我们的情绪，叫我们不要误信外面的谣言，说什么不给我们花红啦。他向我们保证，只要我们好好做，没有请病假，不缺勤，没有事故，乖乖听话，我们的花红是绝对没有问题的。听他这么一说，我们都放心了。毕竟他是人事部经理，他的承诺也即代表SMRT。当时我们都满怀希望，工作尽可能表现到最好，例如尽量不请病假，以符合公司的要求。