SINGAPORE: Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan—Jin said on Tuesday the illegal strike by bus drivers isn’t just a lesson for SMRT, but it also acts as a wake—up call for all companies.
In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia, Mr Tan also responded to findings in a snap poll conducted by government feedback agency REACH on the illegal strike by the SMRT bus drivers.
In the REACH poll of 313 Singaporeans, 56 per cent agreed with the government for taking the time to ascertain the facts before labelling the action as an illegal strike.
Mr Tan explained how the decision was made.
Mr Tan said: "From my perspective, it seemed quite clear that this is probably a strike, but at the same time I think we wanted to make sure that we understood exactly what the facts were, what the circumstances were, how it was unfolding. Because I think once you label it a strike, there will be a whole series of actions that need to take place. So I think it is not something trivial, and we wanted to be sure that that was indeed what it was, and we were prepared to carry out the follow—on actions.
"Secondly, I was also very mindful that when you declare that a strike, then do you have your policies in place, the follow—on actions ready? What if there were repercussions? Because whenever you make a certain decision, there will be reactions. Are you ready to deal with those consequences? Are you ready to deal with those reactions?
"So you want to make sure that your assets are in place, people are clear what they need to do following on from that, and thereafter really to find the right time to make the announcement.
"So I think we were quite deliberate, I was quite deliberate in the whole process, but it was important for us to come out quite definitively to declare it for what it was. And I think we decided eventually sometime towards the latter half of the second day. But I understand the concerns that some Singaporeans have. But I was mindful of when, I was mindful that it was important to be quite clear about this. But I think we wanted to be quite deliberate in the process and I think we decided to make the decision on the second day and to declare it as such."
On SMRT management’s outreach to the bus drivers following the illegal strike, Mr Tan said the atmosphere has been positive and constructive.
Mr Tan said: "My sense of it is that there are deeper issues that we need to look at... it is something that they need quite a fair bit of introspection, and to reflect on what they need to do. And that is something that I think we will work closely with them to understand what else needs to be done."
He added that this episode was also a wake—up call for all companies.
Mr Tan said: "This is Management 101. This is what you expect of any good employer — to look after their workers, whether local or otherwise. Are the terms and conditions fair, and if there are differences and so on, how do you make sure that you explain to them so that they understand why those differences exist? Are there avenues for complaints and so on available? Are they working the way they are supposed to and so on? And these are things which I think all companies should pay attention to.
He emphasised that there are rules and regulations to deal with grievances and frustrations whether they be from employees or employers.
"It’s a wake—up call for companies to pay attention to these things, so I think that is something constructive that we can get out of this whole episode. So much as we understand the grievances raised, but as my message was quite clear, it is that we understand that there are frustrations and there are frustrations across the workforce at every level whether with local employees or otherwise. And there are complaints from the employers’ side as well. There are many different episodes, but there are rules and regulations that govern how we should all act."
Mr Tan said: "And going on strike, or an illegal strike, is certainly not a line that we should cross, because it has a lot of ramifications. So that is something that is not trivial."
He added that while the illegal strike has happened, Singapore has very harmonious working relations with generally fair and reasonable Singaporean employers, and a lot of foreign workers who are responsible in carrying out their duties.
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