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Long-distance bus drivers welcome call for pay review to avoid ‘chasing’ commissions

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by December 27, 2016 General

Long-distance bus drivers welcome call for pay review to avoid ‘chasing’ commissions

Six Singaporeans are among those injured after a bus plunged into a ravine along the North-South Expressway in Johor. 14 people were killed. — TODAY picSix Singaporeans are among those injured after a bus plunged into a ravine along the North-South Expressway in Johor. 14 people were killed. — TODAY picSINGAPORE, Dec 27 — As what they take home each month hinges on the number of trips they make, long-distance bus drivers agreed with a call by a senior Malaysian transport official to review their pay structure so that there is less pressure to “chase” commissions.

They were responding to Malaysia’s Land Public Transport Commission chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar’s comments yesterday, that drivers’ “low” basic pay “forces (drivers) to chase trips”, which is one reason why there have been many accidents, The Star reported.

“Their basic pay is low and often not satisfactory. Their commission depends on the (number of) trips they make, so that forces (drivers) to chase trips,” he was reported as saying. “Therefore we need to allow and encourage bus operators to pay higher salaries.”

The latest accident happened on Christmas Eve when an express bus from Alisan Golden Coach carrying 30 passengers plunged into a ravine along the North-South Expressway in Muar, killing 14 passengers, including three Singaporeans.

Long-distance bus drivers TODAY interviewed said the weakening Malaysian ringgit — the currency they are paid in — has intensified pressure to make more trips.

M. Arulmugam, a bus driver in his 40s, earns RM130 for each round trip to Penang. On a good day, the journey one way takes 10 hours but could be a lot longer if there are jams or scheduling hiccups. In 15 days, he makes seven round trips.

A typical day for him starts in the evening in Penang, where he drives non-stop overnight to reach Singapore in the morning. He takes a break at the company’s hostel before making the return journey.

“If the bus moves, we earn money. If it rests, we don’t,” Arulmugam said. Apart from higher commissions, companies could also give drivers allowances for their time in Singapore, he added.

“We don’t get any extra money for food (in Singapore),” he said, adding that the weak ringgit means having to spend more for food here during rest time. “Just a little bit of money for us to ‘makan’ (eat) here is enough already,” he said, adding that “the company should also care for its drivers, not just the passengers”.

Another driver of five years, who wanted to be known only as Lee, said higher commissions would help drivers, but wondered if companies would oblige.

Lee, who is in his 50s, said he earns around RM128 for a round-trip to Kuala Lumpur, and around RM170 for a Penang round-trip.

Occasionally, the drivers said they will drive shorter legs, where they can pocket around RM60 to RM80, depending on destination and company.

While there have been calls over the years to scrap overnight trips, drivers said a more feasible solution was to have a relief driver on long trips or to make sure drivers get enough, and proper, rest. They also noted that many passengers prefer overnighters so they can sleep and because the roads are generally clearer.

Executive director of Sri Maju Tours & Travel Susan Ng said the company’s policy was to have two bus drivers on board “whether it is for long or short distance routes”. They will drive in shifts on the road so the other can have rest time.

Both Lee and Arulmugam also said they have co-drivers on the road, but noted that not all companies have such a practice.

One driver of 16 years, who declined to be named, told TODAY that insufficient rest is something “we have to live with, and learn to overcome”.

Arulmugam said rest time for him is often dependant on traffic conditions, which can delay bus arrival timings. While he gets a hostel to rest in here, Arulmugam said he knows some drivers from other companies who rest in their buses in the buspark in between shifts.

The current festive season means long queues at the checkpoints, said the drivers, and this leads to longer time on the roads, and shorter rest-time while off-duty. — TODAY

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