Singapore to deport 29 striking Chinese-national bus drivers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 4:39am


Singapore will deport 29 bus drivers to China and prosecute five others for taking part in the city state's first strike since the 1980s.

The order from the Ministry of Manpower came a day after Beijing urged Singapore to respect the workers' legal rights while also cautioning its citizens to obey local laws.

Singapore's manpower minister, Tan Chuan Jin, said: "Foreign nationals should abide by the laws of their host countries. Singaporeans who work and live overseas are also expected to do so. Laws must be upheld."

The ministry said the work permits of 29 drivers had been revoked and immigration officials "will be repatriating them" for involvement in a two-day stoppage to demand better pay and working conditions.

A fifth driver has been arrested and will be charged in addition to four others, who have appeared in court for allegedly instigating the work stoppage last Monday and Tuesday at state-linked transport firm SMRT.

While underscoring that the Chinese workers broke the law, Tan also criticised SMRT, saying it "could have done better in managing their labour grievances and concerns".

If found guilty of involvement in an illegal strike, the five drivers could be jailed for up to a year or fined up to S$2,000 (HK$12,690) - the equivalent of two months' wages for a driver.

The Chinese embassy said it was "very much concerned" about the arrests and had made consular visits to the drivers, Xinhua reported.

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.

"Barring any new developments, we do not expect further arrests or repatriations related to this illegal strike," the manpower ministry said.

"The police will be issuing warnings to the others who were involved, but no further action will be taken against them and they will be allowed to remain and work in Singapore, so long as they continue to abide by our laws."

A total of 171 drivers launched the strike by refusing to leave their dormitories to report for work, with the number falling to 88 on the second day. They were questioning why they were being paid less than their Malaysian counterparts.

SMRT has had to hire bus drivers from China and Malaysia due to a chronic labour shortage.

An SMRT spokesman said 22 per cent of its 2,030 bus drivers were from China, another 22 per cent from Malaysia and the rest Singaporean citizens and permanent residents.

The strikers drew scorn from Singaporeans, who complained about their rebellious behaviour, but also generated sympathy from others after their wages and living conditions were revealed.

Singapore's last strike took place at a shipyard in 1986.