Could the SMRT not have agreed to a wage upgrade?

The unions made a very curious suggestion: the option of “revert to 5-day week”. This meant workers could choose not to partake in a 6-day week, and accept the original lower salary. This was at a fleeting glance, absurd. With all the brains in SMRT, NTWU and the NTUC – why in the world would you want to give drivers an option to have their salaries reduced? It simply did not make sense. Isn’t the idea of bargaining and union involvement to make lives better? Keeping things status quo defeats the purpose of all this hard work.


Today the answer manifested itself – this reversal option had SMRT cornered into having no way out but to agree to a permanent and very high, wage increase. Tear apart the pretty words, the “option” was effectively a boycott. Short of taking to strike, workers needed an avenue to cast their displeasure on something. Had a bunch of drivers (say 50% of them) opted for 5-day week and lower pay, this would have resulted in an operational and administrative nightmare for the SMRT. How bad would it have been? New processes, audits, maybe even more staff just to deal with computing and managing the different salary/operational administration.


What the NTWU played was a complex game of labour chess and it resulted in an obvious checkmate. There is consolation that the new management did not have the baggage of corporate politics to deal with and this exercise was executed without much fanfare.


The result? More than 1900 SMRT drivers and their families benefited.

This magazine was curious about driver salaries in Singapore. We put a search through Google and this answer was returned by JobsDB:


This provides a snapshot of the labour rate for drivers in Singapore. With more action by the unions, there would be increased competition in the market for drivers and eventually, salary rates will go up.


After the negotiations, SMRT drivers now take home a gross monthly salary of between $2400 – $2900. The labour battle over 6-months gives us an insight as to how unions work in Singapore. This magazine considered the responsibility of discussing this matter on a public platform. Whether our analysis proves to be true or otherwise, corporations now know how such game does exist; peaceful, non-disruptive industrial action does exist and more workers need to be aware of this.

  1. I get the impression that when the union negotiated and agreed to this pay package, it also enables SMRT to contain costs and not be subjected to wage war — thereby ensuring public transport users will continue to enjoy current fares.

    Thanks for clarity.

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