Activists in Hong Kong and Singapore have expressed outrage over a crackdown on Chinese bus drivers who staged the city-state's first industrial strike in 26 years to demand better pay and conditions.
The two-day work stoppage last week at state-linked transport firm SMRT, declared illegal by the government, has resulted in the deportation of 29 drivers and a six-week jail term for one.
Four other arrested drivers, who have been remanded for a week, are expected to be in court today, with each facing a maximum one-year jail term and a possible S$2,000 (HK$12,786) penalty if found guilty of involvement in the strike.
The crackdown was also denounced by dozens of labour-rights activists yesterday in Hong Kong, who protested outside the Singaporean consulate, with minor scuffles breaking out with security guards as they tried to enter the property.
Hong Kong lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, the general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, said the Singaporean government had violated international labour rights by criminalising the strikers. He called on authorities to drop the charges and free the jailed driver.
"It's ironic that it's the government in China, a place of no freedom for unions or respect for workers' rights, that is urging its Singaporean counterpart to respect workers' rights," he said.
In Singapore, Alex Au, treasurer of labour-rights group Transient Workers Count Too, expressed dismay at the "heavy-handedness involved in prosecuting five workers and deporting 29 others".
SMRT has promised to look into the Chinese strikers' demands, fumigate their bedbug-infested dormitory rooms and find them better housing, but the government has vowed to take "firm action" against any future illegal strikes.
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, which represents 47 NGOs from 16 Asian countries, urged the release of the jailed drivers and demanded that charges against them be dropped.
"We condemn the Singapore government's criminalisation of the exercise of fundamental rights by the bus drivers who went on strike," said the Bangkok-based group's executive director, Yap Swee Seng.
Strikes are illegal for workers in "essential services" unless they give 14 days' notice.