28 June 2012

Commissions or Basic Pay for Bus Drivers?

So there you are. As per Directive 118-12 of the Labour Department, bus drivers are to receive basic pays in lieu of the traditional boundary and commission system that they have all gotten used to. Maybe that move is just about right; and bus drivers just like all employees need to enjoy the benefits of a fixed salaries at the end of fifteen days.

Certain sectors, not least of which is the MMDA, seem convinced that this is a godsend insofar as reducing vehicular accidents involving public buses is concerned.

I am all for drivers getting fixed pay; but I am not entirely convinced that the new directive in itself will result in a dramatic reduction in road accidents. In Metro Manila, perhaps, a reasonable number of these accidents occur as a consequence of drivers trying to ‘elbow’ each other out of the way to get to waiting passengers first.

Since currently take-home pays are dependent on commissions, it goes without saying that jockeying for position and picking up more passengers invariably influence how much each driver – and conductor – ultimately earns. With this in mind, then yes perhaps, the optimism regarding the reduction in accidents is understandable.

However, basic salaries for bus drivers are not at all a new thing. There used to be this provincial bus line that it was common knowledge paid its drivers and conductors fixed salaries.

The bus line was preferred by passengers for its ability to keep its schedules; as opposed to others that did not seem to keep any and stopped at every town or city to wait for passengers to board. The bus line could also be picky about who it picked up along the way; and this again was beneficial to those who were in a hurry.

On the other hand, since bus company’s drivers and conductors were on fixed pays, some of them could be known to be exceedingly rude to passengers. Since the take home pays were not dependent on the number of passengers, the buses were also known to tear down the roads as though they owned these.

This alone seems to run quite contrary to the MMDA’s expectations; although of course these were provincial roads that this bus line traversed.

The main concern of drivers about the Labour Department’s directive is if the basic salaries they will receive will be significantly less than what they receive from commissions. Some reports say that certain operators are considering commissions on top of basic salaries.

If this model is used, then drivers will continue to jockey for position to be able to meet the take home pay that they are used to. The benefit to them, of course, is that even on bad passenger days, there will be a fixed pay to count on.

While the Labour Department’s directive is correct and well-meaning, by itself I do not think that it will be the solution to road accidents as intended. At the end of the day, it all boils down to economics.

Operators who voice concern about the number of franchises operating are correct. Since bus services are all privately-operated as opposed to government-provided as is the case in some countries, then operators have to be allowed to make a profit.

To do so becomes difficult if there are too many franchises partaking of the pie. Unless the number of operators is properly regulated, drivers will continue to elbow each other for passengers.

Take-home pay will no longer be the issue. Company survival will; and that is an even bigger concern to drivers and conductors than take-home pay.

Assuming that franchises are limited and bus companies are allowed to operate at a profit, there is still the issue of poorly-educated drivers, many of whom poorly understand motoring laws or even have knowledge of the ethos expected of the service industry.

I am not sure at all if it will work in this country because in many ways we do not take time into the same account as other cultures do; but, perhaps, the rational scheduling of trips can also help. What is the point of having so many buses on the road and so few passengers to pick up?

Personally, I think that it will be of benefit as well to passengers if they know when their buses are due to leave or pass a stop. I think, however, that our culture prefers that buses come along ‘any moment’ rather than at a given fixed time.

Finally – and this is of concern not only to the MMDA but the entire country – there is the matter of consistent law enforcement to deal with. Enforcing laws to make examples of some drivers to others on certain days is not enforcement at all. Motoring laws – as with any other laws – need to be consistently enforced at all times; else they only become examples of the saying “when the cat is away...”

The Labour Department’s directive must be seen as the first step rather than the solution to a problem to which there is so much more than meets the eye. I applaud the intent to address the labour perspective; but I hope the other concerns are addressed as well.

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