THERE has been a major shake-up at SMRT Corp's bus operations in the wake of last November's illegal strike by its drivers.

Besides a reshuffling at the top, under-performing staff have been counselled, redeployed or handed warning letters.

"A small number" of them will be leaving the company, chief executive Desmond Kuek told The Straits Times yesterday.

"This is because they did not exercise their management or supervisory responsibilities. They did not carry these out well," he said, declining to say how many were disciplined.

Some 171 Chinese national bus drivers protested over salary and living conditions on Nov 26 last year. The following day, 88 of them continued to stay away from work.

Five drivers have since been charged in court and another 29 repatriated for taking part in the illegal strike - Singapore's first in 26 years. Among them, three alleged ringleaders of the strike were sacked last month.

To steer the company back on track, Mr Kuek, who took over the top job only the month before the strike happened, said he wanted to beef up its human resources to ensure the company better manages its 2,000-plus bus drivers, including 450 Chinese nationals.

Roles and responsibilities of managers and supervisors have been redefined so they are "more multi-functional and less siloed" in dealing with issues, he said.

"It allows bus captains to approach any member of the management supervisory team rather than look for that one particular supervisor who used to be directly responsible for their well-being."

Part of their new job scope involves reviewing bus drivers' duty rosters, which he admitted "has been an area of some concern", and improving communication with all drivers.

He said the latest overhaul will ensure management "spends more time understanding the issues and walking the ground, meeting the needs and concerns of all the bus captains".

After the strike, the company conducted an internal investigation and instituted the changes.

Mr Kuek had admitted, in a Straits Times interview last December, that the illegal strike could have been avoided if supervisors had been more "sensitive, attentive and responsive" to the bus drivers' complaints.

Mr Kuek, a former Chief of Defence Force, had tapped former military men for key posts, including the director of buses and deputy director of workers liaison and industrial relations.

He also appointed former army colonel Gerard Koh as SMRT's human resources director.

The 45 relief bus drivers who were on loan from SBS Transit and other private operators after the strike have since returned to their parent companies, after SMRT stabilised its driver rosters.