Four mainland Chinese bus drivers accused of instigating Singapore's first strike since the 1980s were charged yesterday with criminal offences that could land them in prison.
The four men, aged from 32 to 39, were taken to court one day after mainland Chinese drivers at state-linked transport group SMRT ended a two-day work stoppage aimed at securing better pay.
If found guilty of involvement in an illegal strike, they could be jailed for up to a year or fined a maximum of S$2,000 (HK$12,670) - the equivalent of two months' wages for a driver.
The charge sheet stated that the four "did engage in a conspiracy" to "instigate workmen employed by SMRT Buses Ltd" to take part in a strike on Monday and Tuesday. The drivers were remanded in custody for a week.
One of them, He Jun Ling, 32, also faces a second charge for posting a statement on a Chinese website urging drivers to fight for their dignity by refusing to board shuttle buses from their dormitory to a depot.
A total of 171 drivers joined the protest on the first day, with the number falling to 88 on the second. The strikers were contract workers who did not belong to a union and were questioning why they were being paid less than their Malaysian counterparts for the same work.
The drivers, who issued no strike declaration, went back to work on Wednesday after the government declared the walkout illegal and warned of a crackdown.
Strikes are illegal in Singapore for workers in "essential services" such as transport unless they give 14 days' prior notice and comply with other requirements.
Before the arrests were announced, the Chinese embassy in Singapore said it hoped the drivers' legal rights would be respected, but it also urged the workers to respect Singapore law and air their concerns through proper channels.
SMRT has had to hire bus drivers from China and Malaysia due to a chronic local labour shortage. It says it pays "competitive wages" and provides housing, utilities and worksite shuttles to its Chinese drivers, but vowed to look into their grievances.