It is good that WP has joined in to have a say in the SMRT drivers strike. It also called for fair treatment of workers and decent and living conditions. Apparently no one knew that the PRC workers were having problems in compensation and living in less than decent quarters. The fact that there were admissions to such allegations is proof that things have to be improved. This blind syndrome of seeing but not seeing is becoming a disease affecting Sinkies. It is the consequence of marginable and incremental changes that led to the acceptance of gross indecency without being noticed as the reference point is the last case. It is like earning a million bucks and getting a 5% increment of 50k is nothing without knowing that the starting point was a $50k base salary.
By now it is clear that the main issues to the labour dispute were pay and living conditions. The latter is easier to resolve as workers, especially captains, need to live in conditions befitting of a captain, not a labour camp or abode fit for foreign workers. Good that the SMRT management is looking into the matter now.
As for the compensation, it is not as simple as it looks like. Compensation has to take into account a whole lot of factors, qualification, experience, seniority, performance, allowances, benefits etc etc. And in this case there is another factor of nationality. It is frequently heard that Sinkies are paid much more than foreigners. This could be true and could be a myth. Sinkies too expect to be better rewarded as citizens of the country while foreigners, in this case, even deferred to the privileges of citizens. Only those foolish foreigners working here would think that they should be treated and paid equally as citizens, or even better, as they are here to help the citizens and to provide jobs for the citizens. Where did they get this crazy idea from?
From the numbers available in the papers, it seems that the PRC drivers were paid just as much as the Malaysian drivers but in different combinations. If this is so, then it is a failure on the management to explain the whole compensation package to the PRC drivers. Think communication. They could even offer them the choice of a Malaysian driver’s pay package without the allowances for accommodation and transportation. Are there other benefits that were provided and not computed or explained that were fair or unfair?
There is one very important factor that no one wants to look at and think that if not spoken, it is not there. This reminds me of the Ostrich School of Thought. Many of these workers secured the jobs after paying a hand or a leg to the employment agencies and needed an equitable income to repay the money often paid using borrowings. How would this play up in their minds as to how much they are getting on the job and the debt incurred? This cannot be dismissed off as a non issue. It is a very serious issue that would affect the job performance and mental stress of the drivers. Any driver that thinks he is getting a raw deal will not be giving his best and would end up as a potential problem to the company and even a danger to his passengers and anyone on the road. Management may ignore this, but it is part of the driver’s computation for a decent return for his labour.
There are also obvious differences in terms of employments between permanent employees and contract workers and cannot be simply used to exaggerate the difference as discrimination. The bottom line is that the total package must be equitable and fair to all parties but not necessarily the same. There are elements of just compensation for the job and fringe benefits due to other considerations, like seniority and performance and even cost of living.
In the case of cost of living, paying Sinkies a few dollars more is not positive discrimination as the cost of living is much higher than foreigners. Paying the Sinkies the same as foreigners is really underpaying Sinkies and that is perhaps the main reason why Sinkies are shunning from lower paying jobs. It needs a lot of money to live and survive in this first world city. There are family and social commitments and high cost of everything to pay for.
So, is the compensation package for the PRC drivers really lesser than those of Malaysian drivers and are there genuine and valid justifications for the difference that can be explained to the PRC drivers? If the package is fair, it is then only a matter of being transparent and making the PRC drivers see the fairness of the scheme. Short changing or exploitation of workers, local or foreign, can only work for a while. The truth would soon bear its weight on the culprits of bad HR practices. But don’t always blame the HR practitioners. Often it is top management decision and they were just carrying out the policies from the top. HR professionals should have the gumption to take on management for a fair deal before negotiating with the worker. In reality many would not be able to risk walking out on a job when there is a big mortgage to pay and a family to feed. Management decision is final.
Dumb and daft workers, ignorant and illiterate workers that would blindly accept unfair practices are a thing of the past. But can the management see it, with their super talented team? The reigning philosophy of the day is that workers must be cheaper, better and faster while top management must be paid millions and millions more. Desmond Kuek has been quoted to say this, ‘There are clearly managerial, structural, cultural and systemic issues that need addressing.’ From my experience, management tends to take HR issues for granted and often think they could get away until it is too late. And HR will become the sacrificial lamb.