China 'highly concerned' as four bus drivers face court in Singapore

Beijing says it hopes all sides will respond to the workers' 'reasonable requests for equal pay'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 3:55am

China said it was "highly concerned" about the arrest of four of its citizens by Singaporean authorities for their role in a labour protest, the island's first strike since the 1980s.

The Chinese nationals were charged in court on Thursday with instigating an illegal strike this week by bus drivers at state-linked transport group SMRT, according to court filings. Police arrested the four after the company said more than 170 drivers from China failed to report for duty on Monday and 88 halted work on Tuesday, disrupting some bus services.

"The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese embassy in Singapore are highly concerned about the case," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing yesterday. Officials had been in "close communication" with the Singaporean authorities, he said.

The Ministry of Commerce said it was very concerned about the dispute and hoped that all sides would respond to the workers' reasonable requests for equal pay and treatment.

"All parties should properly handle it to maintain the legitimate interest of Chinese contract workers," its statement said.

Singapore quelled the rare labour discord this week, reinforcing a decades-old focus on avoiding what the government calls "adversarial and confrontational" industrial relations. The last legal strike was in 1986.

The drivers could be jailed for up to 12 months or fined a maximum of S$2,000 (HK$12,600) if convicted.

One of the drivers was also charged with inciting the strike with a post in Chinese on Baidu, China's most popular search engine, entitled: "The insults and humiliations suffered by Singapore Drivers (SMRT)," that asked: "Where is the dignity of the People's Republic of China bus drivers?", according to the court document.

Strikes in Singapore are illegal for workers in essential services unless their employers are given two weeks' notice, according to the Manpower Ministry.