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mardi, novembre 27, 2012

 SMRT bus strike highlights inadequate cross-cultural communication

image from http://www.smrtbuses.com.sg
Lim May-Ann

The bus strike by the 100-odd PRC drivers on Monday was a real eye-opener for many of us. Whatever happened to the well-ordered Singapore that we once knew? And what is rotten in the strangely erupting state of SMRT? When train services break down because of mechanical wear-and-tear, it's fairly understandable (to a certain extent, but don't push it, SMRT.) However, if the complaints are legitimate, do a group of workers have the right to protest in this manner? And if they do have the right, should they do it in the first place?

I think the drivers do have a legitimate cause for complaint if their allegations are true - i.e. that one ethnic/national group was privileged over the other in terms of remuneration, and their living conditions really suck - which in our space-starved city state, I don't doubt for one moment.

Assuming ceteris paribus (i.e. same wages for all bus drivers who are of the same seniority), it's unfair to have one nationality of drivers receive a $275 salary bump and bonus, and another nationality get a $75 salary bump and no bonus (Straits Times, 26 Nov 2012). In my (layman, non-lawyer's) point of view, this smacks of discriminatory practices if not explained.

However, this reason behind the strike would be moot if the pay difference was intended as a variable wage component based on performance, not on nationality/ethnicity. If NOT ALL PRCs received only $75 and/or a bonus, and NOT ALL Malaysians received $275 and/or a bonus, then the strike was uncalled for because the pay increment is a reward based on an assessment of their professional skill, not driven by racial lines.

That being said, strikes are a communication mode of last resort. It's fairly (very!) hostile, and its "take-no-prisoners" method of discussion holds a service (like bus services) hostage unless someone gives the strikers what they want. It's a risky negotiation technique, because if the service is replaceable (eg with new drivers waiting in the wings), then it could become a zero-sum game where the corporation refuses to come to the table and simply hire other workers to provide the service. (Or you know, like in the case of the SIA pilots, Papa LKY might scold and cane you. http://acorn.nationalinterest.in/2003/12/03/lee-kuan-yew-govt-cannot-let-pilots-have-their-way/)

I do think that the group of drivers should have found some way of resolving the issues without resorting to a strike, but I am very sympathetic to the difficulties in cross-cultural discussions and negotiations. Case in point: SMRT claims that their lines of communications have always been open, but open lines of corporate communication are rarely used if there are (1) language barriers, (2) tech barriers - imagine how a PRC driver would take up the oppty to email the PR dept if s/he didn't have access to the internet?, (3) cultural barriers, perhaps of not understanding the difference between "feedback" and "complaining", the latter of which could result in a punishment for not being thankful for having a job.

If Monday's strikes are any indication of the future, multicultural communications looks set to become elevated in Singapore very, very soon. More companies are hiring from overseas to fill jobs which can't/won't be filled by Singaporeans, and HR departments will have to equip themselves to communicate across ethnic and cultural differences, as well as make a bigger effort to engage more with their non-Singaporean employees. It's that, or more disrupted services by disgruntled workers.

[SMRT bus strike highlights inadequate cross-cultural communication]
Sngs Alumni @ 27.11.12 { 0 comments }


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