8 more school bus operators get go-ahead to hire more foreign workers
Eight more school bus operators have been granted extra foreign worker quotas amid a lingering shortage of drivers.
This takes the number of successful applicants to 14, after the first batch of six, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said on Monday.
The move to allow school bus operators to hire more foreign workers is part of MOE’s latest measures, announced in June, to ease the driver crunch. The shortage was so severe it previously led firms including ComfortDelGro Bus to end contracts with schools early.
MOE said on Monday it would also consider applications to hire more foreign workers from operators serving just one school, after getting feedback from school bus associations and operators.
Before this, operators must have secured contracts with at least two MOE schools to qualify to apply.
MOE said it has so far awarded extra foreign worker quotas to two such operators, as their school bus contracts entail a “sizeable deployment of school buses and manpower”.
Mr Darry Lim, a spokesman for the Singapore School Transport Association, said this was a step in the right direction, as having a few more workers would be helpful for smaller operators that cannot meet the present quota of nine local employees to one S Pass holder.
He said the move would not solve the manpower issue in the long run because the work passes are valid only for two years.
The root causes of workers’ reluctance to join the school bus industry – ranging from low wages to undervaluation of the occupation – remain unresolved, he said.
“Imagine three to four years down the road, this problem will get worse as the population ages,” Mr Lim said, adding that small operators that fail to meet quota requirements in future could be forced out of the market.
He also feels there is a lack of transparency on how many more foreign workers are being assigned to each operator, and this may create opportunities for profit-driven operators to exploit the excess manpower and use them for work unrelated to school bus operations.
MOE said applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account an operator’s commitment to serving schools, efforts to hire local drivers, as well as the labour and fleet size needed to serve schools.
The ministry has started processing a third batch of applications, which will include operators that recently obtained new school bus contracts in a tendering exercise that ended in late June.
Separately, about 30 more schools will put up school bus tenders from mid-August. Operators that secure more contracts can apply for extra foreign worker quotas to “augment their manpower needs”, MOE said.