Last Monday (26 Nov 2012), 171 SMRT bus drivers from China took absence from work in protest of unfair wages compared to their Malaysian counterparts and the poor accommodation conditions. More than half the number also did not turn up on for work the following day. This led to disruption in the bus transport services. For the background story, read this yahoo news.
The strike is definitely of interest to local and even international media as Singapore is generally a peaceful country, with the last strike in the 1980s. Because of the media reports, we are reminded that starting a strike in Singapore is illegal for essential services such as healthcare and transport services unless employers are given 2 weeks notice.
Five of the drivers have since been charged for inciting the illegal strike and 29 Chinese nationals who took part on both days of the strike were sent back to their homeland. Notwithstanding whether the issue lies with the employer or the employees, in my view, enforcing such laws against strikes are crucial to maintain the order and peace in Singapore. May this incident deter anyone from starting strikes in Singapore.
In my previous post “Cupcake Quotes: Ostracism and Discrimination“, you would have a sensing that I am receptive to foreign talent and genuinely hope that the negative sentiments against foreign talent die down even though the main point for that post is to express my love for cupcakes. Unfortunately, no matter where, there are going to be some people who likes to stir matters up, making things worse instead of helping to resolve matters and the five for inciting the strike belongs to this category.
I do hope that people who follow the news don’t see this matter as an incident of how foreign talent are disrupting lives in Singapore but rather to come to terms that certain services we take for granted like public transport are actually operated by foreign talent and we should be thankful for their presence. In addition, I hope people recognise that there are foreign talents who are marginalised in Singapore with low wages and living in poor conditions. We should practice compassion instead of discrimination.
I suppose the management of SMRT has quite a few areas to work on, from the simple ones like improving accommodation and room allocation to the tough ones like repairing the employer-employee relationship and trust.
However, there is more to that. What strikes me (pardon the pun) from this incident is the importance of communication and that is applicable to all employers and employees.
SMRT feels that it is fair to pay a lower wage to the drivers from China compared to the Malaysian drivers as free accommodation is provided for the former. However, the rationale for the wage difference is not communicated clearly across to the foreign drivers. The participants of the strike want to let their employer understand the grievances they faced but chose an extreme mode of communication that may not be in their best interests. It is poor communication from both parties.
How does this translate to all employers and employees?
For employers, I suppose the common human resource policy is for employees to keep their pay confidential to avoid wage comparison. But people talk so that policy rarely work. To me, it is really tricky to have different pay packages if employees are essentially doing a same or similar job. Unhappiness is bound to arise from the lower pay employees and if a reasonable explanation acceptable to the employees is not given, they may rationalise it negatively like in the SMRT’s case, that the wage is unfairly given because of their nationality.
Another possible area for employers to tread carefully is wage differences for fresh university graduates and poly diploma graduates that has years of experience doing the same or similar job. If the poly diploma employee is with the organisation for a few years and a fresh university graduate comes in with a starting pay that is higher, seeds of unhappiness is going to be planted. Sadly, this is the reason why some of my poly friends chose to leave the civil service as they feel their career path is limited in the civil service due to their education background.
Personally, if I am an employer, I would opt for clear and transparent communications to justify for the differentiation in pay for same or similar jobs and ideally the pay should be based on meritocracy. If as an employer, one cannot clearly explain why there is a difference for people doing the exact same job, then that is a problem!
For employees, I suppose if there is any issue that one feels strongly about, do take a few steps back from the emotions and do a bit more fact-finding to consider the perspective of the employer. There may be an underlying rationale for the issue which the employer may have failed to inform you. Choose an appropriate way to communicate and discuss the issues so that it is more constructive rather than destructive.
Well, the saying goes “it is easier said than done”. But in my view the art of communication is really not that easy!