TL;DR – SMRT, what do you have to say for yourself now?
Earlier this year, two SMRT staff were killed in a work-related accident. As if the loss of two lives wasn’t tragic enough, SMRT made the decision to sack two staff in September, including the driver of the train that hit and killed the two staff. This astounding decision was made after it supposedly concluded its internal investigations, before the Coroner’s Inquiry is conducted or the police investigations were completed.
The NTWU (or National Transport Workers’ Union) subsequently submitted an appeal to SMRT’s management asking SMRT not to take action against any staff until official investigations were completed. Executive Secretary Melvin Yong had said then,
“The NTWU understands that SMRT has taken action to dismiss two workers related to the incident. NTWU has previously written to SMRT to withhold any actions against the affected workers until completion of official investigations so as to not prejudice the outcome of the official investigations.”
It’s clear that they were not pleading for leniency for the workers, but was pushing for fairness and to ensure due process.
So who’s been charged this morning?
As things stand now, official investigations have led to three parties being charged with wrongdoing this morning. One of these three parties charged included the assistant engineer, one of the two staff sacked in September. The other sacked staff, believed to the train captain, has not been charged, although investigations are still on-going.
SMRT Trains Ltd (yes, the whole company) was charged under Section 12 of the Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA) which states that it is the duty of every employer to take measures necessary to ensure the safety and health of employees at work so far as is reasonably practicable. According to the charge sheet, SMRT was charged for:
- Failing to ensure its employees complied with approved operating procedures when heading down to the tracks, and
- Failing to ensure that the procedures practised by staff that day to access the tracks passed safety audits, were documented and disseminated
If found guilty, SMRT faces a fine of up to S$500,000. We hope SMRT Trains being charged is warning enough for the train operator and in fact, all other companies to dedicate more attention and resources to workplace safety and health so that deaths and injuries can be minimised. One life lost is one too many.
SMRT’s director of control operations, Mr Teo Wee Kiat, 40, was charged under Section 48(1) of the WSHA. This section states that should an offence be committed by a company, an officer of this company (usually one of the directors) shall be guilty of the offence and be liable to be punished. Anyone found guilty under this Act shall be liable to a fine not more than S$200,000 or jail of up to two years, or both.
The assistant engineer who was sacked by SMRT, Mr Lim Say Heng, 47, has been charged by the police. His charge sheet stated that he was the person in charge of the work party accessing the train tracks that day. He apparently did not ensure that the necessary safety measures were in place to make sure trains do not enter the train track while they were there. Lim has been charged for causing death by a negligent act under the Penal Code and may be jailed up to two years, a fine or both, if found guilty.
From what the charge sheets are saying, it seems that investigations by the police and MOM found that the accident was a result of a larger, systemic error by SMRT. That’s why SMRT, as an employer, was charged. That’s quite different from SMRT’s own internal “investigations”, which seem to have pinned all wrongdoing on just the two staff they sacked. Or at least that’s how it seems to us from the outside looking in.
All three parties charged will be back in court on 30 December for a pre-trial conference.
What about the train driver?
He’s not facing any charges for now, although as mentioned above, investigations are still ongoing to determine if any other individuals may be liable for workplace safety lapses in connection with the incident.
So what now? What does this tell us of how SMRT had treated its staff by sacking them just through their so-called internal investigations. They did not even suspend duties, they sacked the staff who had been working for them for over a decade.
This raises the question of how SMRT had conducted their own investigations. How did they come to the conclusion that only those two staff they sacked need to be punished? Why did they not think that their own management and director of operations need to be punished too?
Will SMRT admit that they were wrong in sacking the train driver if he’s not found liable by the police and not charged eventually? Will they then reinstate him? Will they compensate him for loss of income during the period when he was probably wrongfully terminated?
It’s fortunate that the police and MOM conducted their own thorough investigations. Otherwise there might be parties who might have been wrongfully punished, and parties who might have gotten away scot-free. This reinforces what the union had said all along,
It is important to allow due process to take its course and all facts to be revealed before drawing any conclusions.
Following the charges this morning, the NTWU released a media statement through Melvin Yong,
“We will continue to work closely with our member, to provide him and his family support, and to ensure he is fairly represented”.
“Whilst we cannot comment on any ongoing legal proceedings, the union maintains that it is important to allow due process to take its course and all facts to be revealed before drawing any conclusions.”
So now, let’s now see what SMRT has to say for itself.
1. TODAYonline: Backgrounder on fatal SMRT accident