BIG ISSUE 2 within SMRT, says Chew. “In an industry whereby discipline is required of the employees because of the clockwork nature of transport, we have seen SMRT experience failure in ‘Machine, Materials, and Measurement’ from the huge breakdown of its train services last year. And from this current incident, ‘Man, Methods, and Environment’ are also found wanting within SMRT, especially within its bus division. Their inability to listen and act timely on employees’ feedback has resulted in a public relations fiasco. Their inability to integrate their global workers within their corps is a lesson to be learned by others.”
SMRT drivers’ strike is over, but what’s been learned? SMRT suffers strict public scrutiny.
alking off the job in protest has been mostly unheard of in Singapore in the last 26 years until last November 26 when about 171 Chinese bus drivers of SMRT stayed in their dormitories, refusing to make their usual rounds. Another 88 did not report for work the day after. The strike was over on November 28 but it has left a sting to SMRT which has already been previously scrutinised for its MRT service disruption. It was estimated that the strike disrupted about 5% of the city-state’s bus services. Aside from the financial cost that the strike incurred, experts note that the incident puts pressure on SMRT as every step it takes to improve quality can be seen by the public. Systems gone berserk Mark Chew, founder and principal strategist at Giants Learning Technologies, comments that this industrial strike is a result of an organisation reaching instability because it is experiencing a series of systemic failures. Chew cites a basic business management model known 32 SINGAPORE BUSINESS REVIEW | FEBRUARY 2012
“It was estimated that the strike disrupted about 5% of the city-state’s bus services.“
as the Ishikawa diagram, which points out that a problem or quality defect may arise if any of these six categories of ‘Man, Methods, Machine, Materials, Measurement, and Environment’ are not taken care of. A good example of this, he says, is an incident which happened back in June 2008 when a group of Nepalese Gurkhas in a contingent attached to the Singapore’s police force openly disagreed with their superiors because they were unhappy over their wages. “Can you believe that disciplined soldiers can be forced into such actions because of salary matters? This was indeed a rare display of indiscipline in a force that was famous for its dutiful honour. In this case, the Gurkha Contingent experienced failure in ‘Man, Methods, and Environment’. There were poor communication channels between the soldiers and their commanders. Grievance procedures were overlooked, and Management and HR policies were wanting.” Six-degree failure These similar reasons have surfaced
Lessons learned? Securities Investors Association president and CEO David Gerald notes that key lessons from the strike are, firstly, that employers must not take for granted that disgruntled employees will not react; secondly, employers, he says, must constantly review the employees’ working conditions and benefits to give the employees the assurance that their concerns are being addressed; and finally, the human resource officers, he adds, must be communicating well with the employees and must always have their door open for employees to express their grouses. Apex Headhunters managing director Pang Meng Hock explains that Singapore may be the only unique country in the world that does not allow strike or demonstration and this is a strong selling point to attract investors. “We have seen many countries in the world today, developed and developing, that have been cursed with constant strikes and demonstrations that paralysed their whole economy and society but at the end no one wins.” Pang maintains that the Chinese drivers are on the wrong side of the law. With Internet and social media today, there is always an effective way, he says, to apply pressure without resorting to violence or illegal means to achieve the desired result.
Published on Feb 13, 2013