Discrimination, Recriminations and Reprisals

A former SMRT employee recalls her time at the company

SMRT
(Photo credit: Shawn Byron Danker)

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.

The 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.

Initial problems

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.

Leaving SMRT

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

一名前SMRT 巴士司机回顾其职场生涯

新加坡地铁巴士公司在中国展开遴选司机的活动,过程很艰难,竞争异常激烈。因此,当M获知他已通过层层关卡可以到新加坡担任司机时,他心中的喜悦非笔墨所能形容。然而,缴付了庞大的中介费来到新加坡,两年之后,他最终在理想幻灭、无比失望的情况下选择离开。

以下是他从2009至2011年在新加坡地铁公司担任巴士司机的回顾。

遴选过程

首先,我们必须通过面试,再通过路试,然后才有机会和新加坡代表面谈。申请的人非常多,不过被选中的却只有几位而已。通过面试和路试后,我们才可以商谈聘约的条件。他们从百多个申请者当中挑中了十九位,我是其中之一。过后,我们就签下雇佣合约。

雇佣合约

我记得合约注明,每月的基本薪金是1050元。前三个月属于试用期,底薪是950元,通过试用期后就会调整到1050元。另外,合约还注明我们享有第十三月年终花红及公司花红,不过公司花红部分得要视公司的业绩表现而定。公司一年会颁发两次公司花红,年终花红则会每年发一次。

除此之外,我们还享有14天病假及7天年假。两年合约期满后,我们还有两个星期的有薪假期,可以回乡探亲,公司会支付我们回国的机票。

当时我们签的雇佣合约是中文书写的。我们有要求要保留一份,可是不被批准。虽然我们有提出抗议,可是他们向我们保证,绝对不会有任何问题,因为他们是新加坡政府的政联公司嘛,怎么会骗我们呢?所以我们也就深信不疑,签下了合约, 合约则由公司保留。

来到新加坡后,我们需另签一份新的雇佣合约。这次合约是以英文书写的,上面没有中文翻译。公司人事部只告诉我们,英文版的合约内容和在中国签的没有两样,要我们签了它。我们当中就有人反对这样的安排,他提出希望可以让第三者过目两个版本之后才签约。人事部当然没有同意这个要求。他们一再声明,新加坡必须要有英文版的合约才算数,他们也看不懂中文。合约签了之后,人事部也没有给我们一份,我们要求拷贝一份也不被批准。

雇佣中介费

过来新加坡的司机是分批来的,有可能是因为地铁公司在中国雇用了好几家中介的关系吧。我们每人一共支付了人民币四万三千元给中国的中介,来新加坡的机票价钱也算在内。

一般我们都得四处借钱才筹得出这一笔来新加坡的中介费。多数人是跟亲戚或朋友借贷。我没有跟银行贷款,也是通过亲戚和朋友的帮忙。

新加坡的工作情况

在中国面试时,根据我的理解,这里工作的时数是每周44小时,五天制。星期六是休假日,如果当天加班,时薪是底薪的1.5倍。星期天则是休息日,有加班的话时薪则是底薪的两倍之多。从周一到周六,一旦工作时数超过44小时,超时的时数将以底薪的1.5倍算。一天的基本工作时间是8小时又 48分。

他们说了,你们想要赚钱的话就要多加班!

最初面临的难题

公司在试用期过后竟然没有调整我们的底薪。当初说好的,试用期底薪为950元,试用期过后会调至1050元。公司也没有给我们一个明确的解释,我们那时才刚到这儿,人生地不熟的,什么都不懂。这些问题很敏感,我们也不敢质问。公司说过,在试用期期间,只要是不符合公司规定的,都会被遣送回国。

中介也把我们全部的护照都没收了。他说这是这里的规矩,工人的护照都得由雇主保管,我们不能自己保管。

公司已经提出警告,只要你不听话,或是问题太多,你就会被遣送回去。曾经有个同事叫胡秀文的,他住的宿舍臭虫很多,他被叮得浑身是包。他一直向人事部投诉,并要求换房。没几天他就被遣送回国了。

我不清楚是公司里那个高层决定解雇他的。然而,经过这起事件,我们得到了一个惨痛的教训。不可以多说话,也不可以强出头,不然后果自负!我们每人花了四万多块好不容易过来,不可能为了这些事而白白牺牲,让欠着的中介费没有着落。所以,不管有什么问题,我们一般都不敢出声,这笔费用可不是小数目啊。

申诉的管道?

当初,公司承诺给我们一年两次的公司花红。但是第一年的七月份底,新加坡和马来西亚籍司机都拿到花红了,中国籍司机却没拿到。很多中国籍司机就向人事部询问,我也亲自打电话问财务部。财务部同事澄清,中国籍的司机会在合约期满后得到公司花红及年终奖金,所以必须等到年底。我相信他的说词,因为他是负责发我们薪水的嘛。可是一年期满后,公司的承诺没有履行,我们的花红依旧没有着落。对我们来说,这是一笔很大的数目,所以当时我们的反应很强烈,情绪非常不稳定。

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。

到了2010年年底,公司再次召开会议,商讨我们续约的条件。当时我们就要求颁发拖欠的花红。可是这一回,公司改口说,中国籍司机根本没有公司花红的福利。当时我们所有所有人都很愤慨,有些决定不续约,有些甚至到新加坡人力部门投诉。当时公司澄清说,我们会有续约奖励金,但是不管在公司的服务期限多长,中国籍司机就是不能享有公司花红。

决定离开

我是在2011年2月辞职的。我感到非常疲累,每天长时间的加班令我的体力不胜负荷。另外,压力也很大,倘若想多赚一些钱,就一定要加很多班,不然,底薪只有那么一千元。我们负债累累才到这儿打工,可是长时间加班让我很吃不消。

公司里的内部体制存在很多不公平的地方。例如,想要有多些机会加班的话,你一定要跟排班次的主管打好关系。有些人就比别人多出很多机会可以加班赚钱,有些则没有,我觉得很不公平。工作得很不开心,也很疲累了。

我认为公司在花红及福利方面的政策,一直都把中国籍司机排除在外。

让我强烈感受到公司对中国籍司机的歧视,是无论向新加坡或马来西亚籍工友宣布他们得到加薪花红之类的通告,他们一并会在通告上强调,显著地注明“中国籍车长除外” 。

当年在公司时,我知道一些中国籍司机有找工会的人向他们反映这些问题,可是都不了了之,没有结果。

我们离乡背井到国外来打工,承受的压力很大。然而,我们没有办法向公司申诉困难,除非我们不想干了。你不可以多说话,你不可以不听话。一旦你反映了什么问题,你就面临被遣送回国的命运吧。

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