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Steps to protect existing staff amid bus reforms

New operators must offer affected employees job six months ahead of start of service

[SINGAPORE] With changes to the public bus transport system underway, the Public Transport Tripartite Committee (PTTC) has outlined guidelines for good employment practices to safeguard the interests of affected employees as Singapore transitions to a bus contracting model.

The guidelines cover areas such as employment terms, employee benefits and training, while also spelling out the obligations of both incoming and outgoing bus operators.

This comes after the government announced in May that the current, privatised model will give way to one where the government owns assets such as buses, and contracts out routes for operators to run. Operators would be paid a fee, while the government retains fare revenue. The new framework is designed to boost service standards.

All bus routes will be progressively tendered out in 12 packages, starting with three packages over this year and next, which could see local and foreign operators potentially taking over routes from incumbents SMRT and SBS Transit. Operators which have indicated interest in the past include Australia's Tower Transit, French joint venture Veolia Transport RATP Asia and Woodlands Transport Service.

As such, the PTTC - which is chaired by Senior Minister of State (Transport) Josephine Teo - has come up with guidelines to safeguard the welfare and interest of public bus industry employees. Members of the committee include representatives from the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU), the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the Ministry of Manpower, SBS and SMRT.

Under the guidelines, new operators will have to offer all affected employees a job at least six months ahead of the start of service, for which the employment terms must be equal to those under the employees' existing contract.

These terms will apply for at least a year, although any subsequent changes will have to be negotiated between the bus operator and its employees as well as endorsed by the LTA. Affected employees also have the option of joining the incoming operator or staying with their existing employer and being redeployed, if possible.

Among other things, the outgoing operator is expected to work with the incoming one to enable a smooth transition, such as by allowing employees to attend training sessions if required by the new operator. In addition, outgoing operators should allow for any unused annual leave to be en-cashed and pay any bonuses or pro-rated wage supplements to staff.

"Companies should actively support and constructively engage the representative industry trade union on any workforce issues and to resolve any industrial disputes, so as to ensure service continuity and improve service standards over time," Mrs Teo also highlighted.

The guidelines will be included in the tender specifications and LTA's contract with the operators.

Meanwhile, affected workers are urged to keep an open mind when considering an offer of employment from the incoming operator.

"From feedback, it was clear that workers' key concerns were their rights, job security and welfare. The pleased to see these priorities were addressed in the PTTC guidelines," said Ong Chin Ang, executive secretary of the NTWU, which has been working together with the PTTC.

He added: "The union will also continue to work closely with the tripartite partners in engaging and representing members to ensure that their queries and needs are taken care of during this transition."

The National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation also issued statements on Tuesday in favour of the guidelines.

The first tender package - which includes routes originating from Clementi, Jurong East and Bukit Batok bus interchanges - is expected to be released in late September/early October. About 450 bus employees could be affected in this package.