15 mins with Melvin Yong (on a bus!)

From the middle of this year, Singapore’s public bus sector will undergo a change with the operationalisation of the 1st package under the Government Bus Contracting Model.


Tower Transit won the bid for the Bulim Bus Depot in 2015 and will begin operating 26 bus services from the depot from mid-2016.

As part of the Bus Contracting Model, the Public Transport Tripartite Commitee (PTTC) gave 3 key assurances to affected employees:

  1. All affected employees must be offered a job by the incoming operator;
  2. Affected employees must be offered employment terms which are not worse off than that enjoyed before transition; and
  3. Affected employees can choose to join the new operator, or be redeployed by their current employer where feasible.


We hopped on a 15 minute bus ride with Labour Member of Parliament and Executive Secretary of the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) Melvin Yong and chatted with him.


How different or similar is the Labour Movement as compared to the Police Force which you were in before joining Politics?

Since joining  the Labour Movement about six months ago, I’ve realised that a lot of the work done in the Labour Movement is behind the scenes. I liken to this to the job of the police – People don’t really see what the police do, but there is safety and security on the streets. Similarly, people don’t see what a unionist does, but there is always a good sense of industrial harmony at the workplace. And it doesn’t mean that the policemen or unionists don’t do anything. We negotiate and fight hard for workers behind the scene.

How different is the public bus industry from the time when you were a student?


I remember travelling on bus number 74 from my home to school when I was a student and having to buy concession stamps to stick onto your bus card. This was done every month, so you change your stamp every month. But today, automation has changed the way we pay for our fares. Commuters use their ez-link cards to pay for their fares automatically without the bus captain needing to do anything.

Also, commuters’ experience have changed, the buses back then had no air-conditioning systems. Today, passengers can travel in comfort in air-conditioned buses.

With the bus contracting model coming on board, the industry is going to see even more change.

When you were and your wife were dating, did you travel by car or did you both take public transport?


I only got a car very much later when I began working, but when we were dating, my wife and I would take the train when we went out.

In fact, today, if I don’t drive, I will still take a bus to the nearest MRT station to hop on a train to get to my destination.

How has the union’s role in the public transport sector changed from before?

Union chief Chan Chun Sing and NTUC director of Industrial Relations fieldwork Melvin Yong talk to workers.
Union chief Chan Chun Sing and NTUC director of Industrial Relations fieldwork Melvin Yong talk to workers.

I think there are two areas.

First, public transport workers have increased significantly since the union first started. So we see more members in the union and of course, that means an increase in member’s issues.

Two, the job scope of transport workers have changed.

In the past, you have two persons operating on the bus. A bus captain and a bus conductor. Today, our buses are very much, O.M.O or One Man Operation, a bus captain by himself. Even for trains, our new train lines are driverless. New systems and trains are emerging. So are our workers ready for the change?

So we (NTWU) have to work with the LTA and the transport operators to ensure that our members have the relevant skillsets in order for them to operate new machines.



Image Credits: Labourbeat, Channel NewsAsia, Melvin Yong, Labourbeat.

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Arthur Lee

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