Amidst the chatter of Bus Captains having their Monday morning cups of kopi at the SBS Bus Depot, we spotted the cheery Mr Ng Swee Fatt – 64 year-old SBS Transit Bus Captain – who has been in this line for 41 years!
More than 4 Decades as Bus Captain
At 64, the sprightly Mr Ng has no plans to retire anytime soon. He shared how he really loves what he has been doing for the past 41 years. And no, it’s not ‘just driving a bus’. Pointing to his rank badge, “See, I have 3 lines now”. The wide smile on his face revealed the pride and joy he takes in his work. When asked what kept him here – 41 years is a long time – he shared that he really loves what he does, interacting with commuters daily, picking up new skills and mentoring new Bus Captains. The cherry on top is that with the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU)’s help, salary packages and benefits for Bus Captains have also improved a lot over the years, especially after the introduction of the Bus Contracting Model (BCM) in 2016.
NTWU’s Neverending Push for Bus Captains and The Bus Contracting Model (BCM)
Under the BCM, bus operators competing for contracts had to abide by strict guidelines, which ensured that bus employees would be treated fairly and are no worse off when a new operator takes on the contract. Starting monthly pay for new local Bus Captains has also increased by over 25% since 2014 (higher than the national wage growth of 18% for the same period), and NTWU played a big role in that.
Mr Ng also shared how NTWU has always tried its best to help fellow Bus Captains solve problems where possible, “当然,工会不可能帮到每个人”. Indeed, much as they try, the Union couldn’t possibly help with every.single.case.
In most cases, however, NTWU has been a strong pillar for our Bus Captains, they have negotiated for better benefits and working conditions for our transport workers over the years. Did you know that a Bus Captain’s bonus can go up to 4 months depending on their performance? We certainly didn’t! *envious
Having been in the industry for more than 4 decades, we really want to know what sustains Mr Ng in this high-stress job as a Bus Captain’s.
With a sheepish smile, he replied, “Simple things daily. Like someone saying, ‘Hello, Uncle’ and ‘Thank you, Uncle’ when they board or alight. It makes my day.”
Interestingly, this came up multiple times during our chats with other Bus Captains as well!
On some of Mr Ng’s regular routes, just meeting the familiar commuters and exchanging a few greetings with them delights him. He also spoke of the little snacks that some friendly commuters share with fellow Bus Captains and how they perk them up. Now you know, it really doesn’t take much to make your bus uncle / aunty’s day on your next bus journey!
I’m sure this job is not always a bed of roses?
“Confirm every job has stress, especially so if you take pride in what you do. Take for example, our ‘running time’, we have very strict standards to maintain. So at any point in time, we have to maintain the time, check that our passengers are safe, look out for errant drivers on the road. We have to ensure punctuality at every bus stop, not only at the depot. The stress is there but lucky we have NTWU to help us resolve certain issues that we faced. They really helped us a lot,” Mr Ng shared.
For example, there was an occasion when Bus Captains feedbacked on extremely tight running times, and the Union managed to help them negotiate for more reasonable timings. Union leaders often help to float constructive feedback to the top, and issues do get resolved! The feedback don’t disappear into thin air.
“Many Bus Captains even shared personal problems with our union leaders. They really take the time to listen,” he chuckled. Indeed, over the years, NTWU’s relationship with our Bus Captains has strengthened. The Union safeguards the welfare of transport workers and at the same time, gathers strong support and constructive feedback from the ground.
Were there occasions when commuters vent their anger at Bus Captains? Mr Ng shrugged, “Just ignore and do our job lor… I’m contented when elderly commuters and young children get to their destinations safely. Your journey is mine too, 你们安全, 我就开心.” Truly inspiring!
Indeed, it is not uncommon to hear of bus captains bearing the brunt of commuters’ rage.
“What we want is to ‘Show Respect, Stop Abuse’, to build a healthy and positive workplace environment for our Bus Captains. Let us start by giving a smile to the captain as we board the bus, and to intervene as one community when we see any abuse.” ~ Mr Melvin Yong, Assistant Secretary-General in the National Trades Union Congress
No longer about ‘just driving a bus’, Bus Captains are exposed to opportunities for upskilling and training these days.
“It’s up to yourself whether you want to move up. I still enjoy the driving after 41 years but training new people helps them and also myself. I get to try new things and move up the ranks,” Mr Ng himself is also a trainer, mentoring new Bus Captains. SBS Transit has a model where bus captains showing talent, capability and potential are able to rise in the organisation. Indeed, mentoring new bus captains allows bus captains to demonstrate and further hone leadership skills. They also gain confidence as they move up the ranks, regardless of age! A Bus Captain’s job is no longer just about driving a bus. It comes down to your own learning attitude, and whether you are open to opportunities to try your hand at other things. Senior Bus Captains also move on to more duties honing other skillsets such as managing rosters, training and development.
As the saying goes, 活到老，学到老!
Mr Ng’s advice to younger Bus Captains in the industry?
Oldies but goodies; tolerance – when it comes to unreasonable commuters – and a professional attitude: “没有事不要乱拿MC” (Translation: Don’t take MC unnecessarily)
Guess we, as the younger generation, have to take a leaf out of Mr Ng’s book! ;P