Bus drivers' lawsuits involve important questions of law: High Court

Lawsuits brought by 13 bus drivers against transport operator SBS Transit over overtime pay involve important questions of law that would affect a larger class of workers in Singapore, a High Court judge said.

The workers claim in their suits, filed in 2019 and last year, that they had been made to work without a rest day each week and were also underpaid for overtime work.

In a written judgment allowing the case to be transferred to the High Court, Justice Audrey Lim noted yesterday that the Employment Act provides for mandated rest days and limits to work hours to protect the rights of employees.

"The question of whether this can be 'overridden' in a case where an employee is deemed to provide essential services... is important, as it affects a larger population of workers in general and not just the immediate plaintiff or parties to the case," Justice Lim said.

A provision in the Act allows an employer to require employees in essential services to work more than the prescribed limit of hours or to work on a rest day.

The questions thus involve the interpretation of provisions in the Act relating to whether a rest day can be scheduled such that an employee can be made to work for 12 consecutive days over a 14-day period, and whether bus drivers fall within the definition of employees providing "essential services".

Justice Lim said there would be potential ramifications on how such employment contracts are structured in terms of granting days off, computing overtime pay and determining work hours.

On Sept 20, 2019, five bus drivers each filed a magistrate's court suit against SBS Transit. Eight others subsequently filed similar suits against it. All 13 plaintiffs are represented by lawyer M. Ravi.

Last year, the parties agreed for the suit relating to one plaintiff to be heard as a test case, to save time and money.

This means the court's decision and findings on Mr Chua Qwong Meng's suit will be binding on all the plaintiffs.

Mr Chua claims SBS had breached the terms of his employment contract and the Employment Act, and that SBS failed to give him a rest day each week. SBS, which is represented by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, denies his claims.

In March, Mr Chua filed an application to transfer the test case from the magistrate's court to the High Court. - THE STRAITS TIMES