Friday, 7 December 2012

Lessons to learn from the illegal SMRT strike

Bus drivers in Singapore's first strike in 25 years
Foreign workers walk out of their dormitory in Singapore. Singapore Tuesday issued a warning to mainland Chinese bus drivers, who are staging the first strike in the city-state for more than 25 years, an act that could land them in prison
AFP News - Foreign workers walk out of their dormitory in Singapore. Singapore Tuesday issued a warning to mainland Chinese bus drivers, who are staging the first strike in the city-state for more than 25 years, an act that could land them in prison


Singapore Tuesday issued a warning to mainland Chinese bus drivers, who are staging the first strike in the city-state for more than 25 years, an act that could land them in prison.

A total of 102 Chinese drivers working for state-linked transport firm SMRT began their wildcat strike over pay on Monday, refusing to board a shuttle bus from their dormitory to a nearby depot.

An agreement was hammered out to convince them to return to work, but SMRT said more than 60 drivers still did not turn up for duty on Tuesday.

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Singapore's first strike in 26 years peters out

"There are lessons from this episode, including how we can better engage our (drivers), and we will improve in this area," said Teo Chew Hoon, an executive vice president of SMRT.

"In the meantime, we are doing our utmost to make immediate improvements to their living conditions," she added.
Strikes and other forms of industrial action are extremely rare in Singapore, where unions work closely with the government and private business, making the port city an attractive place for foreign investment.

The last strike in Singapore was staged in 1986, the manpower ministry said.

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Singapore’s first strike in nearly 3 decades shows strains from foreign workers

Singapore responded to its first strike in nearly three decades, by bus drivers, with riot police and official criticism of disgruntled immigrant workers.

Singapore relies on hundreds of thousands of immigrants, from countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh and China, who work as maids, construction workers and in other jobs deemed unappealing by many locals.

The foreign influx sparked a backlash, particularly among low-income Singaporeans, by keeping wages down while growing numbers of expatriate professionals working for global companies in the city push up housing and other costs.

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5 Lessons to Learn from the PRC Chinese SMRT Strike



In the midst of a unusually rainy wet festive November  month, Singapore was hit with a bombshell when 170 PRC Chinese bus captains conducted an illegal strike two days ago.

Citing work pay difference between themselves and their  Malaysian counterparts and the difficult living conditions at their apartments,  these foreign workers ironically broke a 25-year-old peaceful labour movement here.

Under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, essential service workers cannot go on strike unless they give their employers 14 days’ notice of their intention. I have listed five lessons which we can learn from the PRC Chinese SMRT strike:

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SMRT drivers' illegal strike a wake-up call for all companies: Tan Chuan-Jin

Foreign workers walk out of their dormitory in Singapore on Nov 26, 2012. (AFP/ROSLAN RAHMAN) 

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said on Tuesday the illegal strike by bus drivers isn't just a lesson for SMRT, but it also acts as a wake-up call for all companies.

In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia, Mr Tan also responded to findings in a snap poll conducted by government feedback agency REACH on the illegal strike by the SMRT bus drivers.

In the REACH poll of 313 Singaporeans, 56 per cent agreed with the government for taking the time to ascertain the facts before labelling the action as an illegal strike. 

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SingHealth reviews plans after illegal strike at SMRT

The country's largest public healthcare cluster has said it is reviewing its business contingency plans, in the wake of the strike by SMRT's China bus drivers last week.

SingHealth, which oversees two hospitals - Singapore General Hospital and KK Women's and Children's Hospital - as well as five national specialty centres and nine polyclinics, is also undertaking "further risk assessments", its Deputy Group Director of Strategic Human Resources Goh Leong Huat said. SingHealth did not give details of what these assessments will entail.

SingHealth, which employs over 16,000 staff, did not respond to queries on how many foreign staff it has on its books. However, Mr Goh said that SingHealth employs foreign staff "based on calibrated assessment and balance of the need for trained healthcare workers". Several other companies contacted were cagey when asked if they are reviewing their plans in the wake of the illegal strike

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Activists slam Singapore crackdown on China strikers

REUTERS - A representative (L) from the Singapore Consulate receives a protest letter from labour union activists during a protest outside their offices in Hong Kong December 5, 2012

Activists expressed outrage Wednesday over Singapore's 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 Singapore government, has resulted in the deportation of 29 drivers and a six-week jail term for one driver.

Four other arrested drivers, who have been remanded for a week, are expected to be produced in court on Thursday, with each facing a maximum one-year jail term and a possible Sg$2,000 ($1,640) penalty if found guilty of involvement in the strike.

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SMRT episode casts spotlight on vital issues: Observers

Some PRC workers leaving the Woodlands Domitory had their heads bowed while others looked indifferent.

While the Government has sent a strong signal that illegal strikes will not be tolerated in Singapore, the recent saga involving bus drivers from China has also thrown up several lessons that companies and the Government can learn from, said MPs and observers.

Among them, better communication channels to handle grievances, as well as more education for foreign workers on employment laws here.

"I think this sends a clear signal to the foreign workforce community about respecting how labour laws work in Singapore," said Mr Zaqy Mohamad, chairman of the Communications and Information Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC), of the criminal charges pinned on four drivers who allegedly instigated a work stoppage on Monday and Tuesday last week.

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SMRT as much to blame as bus drivers: Survey

Over seven in 10 Singaporeans surveyed felt that, while SMRT's China bus drivers were wrong to have staged last week's illegal strike, the public transport operator should also bear some responsibility as it did not manage the grievances of the drivers well.

The finding was based on a snap poll conducted by the Government's feedback channel, REACH, which interviewed 313 Singaporeans aged 15 and above.

Last Monday, 171 bus drivers from China staged an illegal strike in protest against what they saw as lower wages than their Malaysian counterparts and poor living conditions. The following day, 88 did not turn up for work.

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SMRT bus driver strike: Were they really treated fairly?

AFP News - A SMRT bus leaves the Admiralty West prison after taking Chinese bus drivers there. Singapore will deport 29 mainland Chinese bus drivers and prosecute five others for taking part in the city-state's 

The following is an excerpt from Dr Vincent Wijeysingha's Facebook post which can be found here. It has been reproduced here with permission from the author.

People have speculated whether the drivers’ claims were true or not or whether they were excessive and unreasonable. Should we or should we not allow strikes and particularly in the essential services which hold up and inconvenience our lives. We should get rid of these foreigners and employ more locals so that they can’t hold ‘us’ hostage. Surprisingly, some are even angry that their action resulted in rapid remedial action by the authorities. And of course, taking shelter in the safest of all propositions, some have cried that the law is the law and no one should break it

Nowhere, except among our more gifted commentators such as Andrew Loh and Alex Au have I heard the harder questions asked and challenged laid. Nowhere did I hear anyone ask how their families were coping with a salary increase of thirteen cents an hour. Nowhere did I hear the cry raised that we should at least wait to hear the whole story before moving so decisively to charge these men and then imprison them awaiting trial even though they are no danger to society and will not, cannot, abscond if bailed.

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Deportation Own Goal

As the Singapore government announced that they will deport 29 of the Chinese bus drivers involved in the strike last week, I’m struck by one thing; the amazing own goals scored by our government ministers.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said on Saturday that “the workers broke Singapore law”, but also say SMRT "could have done better”. Frankly, I think government ministers need to stop saying things like that. You know what does that statement tells people? It tells them that the strikers' demands are valid.

The Chinese bus drivers complaints of poor pay and lousy living conditions seem to be valid because even the Singapore government are chiding SMRT for “poor labor practices”. If that is the case, people will ask why are they still deporting and jailing the drivers?

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Are we proud of what happened to the PRC drivers?

"SMRT must take steps to ensure that such severe breakdowns in labour relations should not happen again. We all know that there are statutory requirements that companies need to fulfil and these are expected of all companies but there are also many non-statutory practices which frankly any good company should fulfil as well and this includes how you manage your staff, employees, how you engage them and how you look after them, looking after their welfare and this includes both local and foreign employees and frankly it is common sense, companies are expected to do that.

"The issue is really why did this happen? Why was it allowed to fester? We do understand that the channels of communication are there. So the question is, did it filter upwards? Did it not filter upwards? And why not? And those are things we have to examine."

 I am afraid I have to tell him his protestations are mealy-mouthed. The nation, through the good offices of The Online Citizen, has known about this matter since September. Mr Tan cannot claim ignorance now: he comes across as either incompetent or not telling the whole truth. I invite him to clarify.'

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The jailing of SMRT bus drivers solves nothing

The imprisonment of five SMRT bus drivers from the People's Republic of China resolves none of the ongoing problems workers face in Singapore.

As long as the PAP Government continues to rely on cheap foreign labour to maintain GDP growth, labour relations and worker discontent will worsen. Not only will workers be exploited, diplomatic relations with countries of the workers will also be adversely affected.

While the SDP will continue to fight for Singaporeans’ priority for jobs in this country, foreign workers must not be exploited and treated inhumanely.

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The SMRT Bus Drivers Affair

One has to sit out in prison, 4 or 5 were charged in court and 29 were deported. And there was a public outcry against the presence of these drivers and their unruly behavior, breaking our laws to go on strikes, and breaking our 26 years of industrial peace, without a strike.

Many of you may know the whole story, some know only parts of the story, some know nothing at all. For those who know the full story, know what was going, touch your heart and say, yes we have been fair, or unfair, to these workers.

For those who do not know, please go and read the whole affair, get the facts and then retake your position on this issue. You have the right to form any conclusion, as long as your heart is there, as long as you can touch your heart and say honestly to yourself, that you can sleep well.

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SMRT acknowledges 'valuable lessons learnt'

The 29 SMRT bus drivers - or service leaders as the company calls them - who will be repatriated will be paid all salaries as of Dec 1 and any claims owed, as well as ex gratia bonuses on a pro-rated basis.

In a statement issued tonight, an SMRT spokesperson said: "Valuable lessons have been learnt from this incident which are being addressed by the management.

We need to improve our management, communication and engagement efforts to be more proactive, responsible and sensitive to the needs of our service leaders. We are determined to come out stronger from this episode

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“You can resign and go to SBS,” the SMRT drivers were told


The government has acted in our name as is its duty. It purged an industrial action and returned the nation to business as usual. The bus drivers from SMRT recklessly involved themselves in an illegal strike after refusing to bring their grievances to management or their trade union or seek the assistance of the Manpower Ministry.

Twenty-nine have been deported, one hundred and fifty more issued a police warning and the five ringleaders will be tried. Industrial harmony has been restored, the tripartite relationship upheld, and public disorder averted.

As fortunate citizens of this prosperous and stable nation, we can heave a sigh of relief. Those refractory foreigners got what they deserved. How dare they come to our land – which our government built from a fishing village – and demand such indulgences as suitable accommodation and an equal wage. Nobody promised them any of that: if they aren’t happy here they can f*@# off back home.

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All Aboard The SMRT Gravy Train

And exactly what kind of board has oversight of the business at SMRT? Well, it appears 9 board members have a total of 234 "relationships" with other companies. Between the 9, board members average 26 "relationships" with other organisations. Why are these board members so exceptionally "hard-working"?



Going by the example of Ong Ye Kung, the Executive Secretary of the National Transport Workers Union (NTWU), the largest transport union in Singapore, who wears another hat as a member of the Board of Directors of SMRT, collecting directorships can be quite lucrative. Based on SMRT’s 2011-2012 Annual Report, Ong's annual director fee was $80,000. Now imagine multiplying that by 26.

A study of 3,816 directors by National University of Singapore's Corporate Governance and Financial Reporting Centre (CGFRC) in 2008 found that some 84 per cent of directors in Singapore-listed companies hold just 1 seat. Some 14.5 per cent of directors hold between 2 and 5 positions in listed companies. This leaves less than 2 per cent of directors - 51 individuals in all - who sit on least 6 company boards. Most of the "popular candidates" have either government links or have accounting backgrounds. For example, among the 16 directors who have 8 or more posts, 10 are former or current members of Parliament (MPs), or former civil servants. Ex-PAP MP Wang Kai Yuen used to top the list with 12 directorships, but still he wasn't a happy man, grumbling to all who cared to hear, "some of the companies pay me as little as $10,000". Move over, Wong, your record has been broken several times over.

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Tripartism's stress points are showing

The strike at Woodlands dormitory over pay and inadequate living conditions is one more sign that SMRT needs to get its house in order urgently. TODAY FILE PHOTO

In managing our heavy reliance on foreign manpower, has complacency crept in? Is tripartism under threat?

The SMRT illegal strike last week is a wake-up call to all industrial relations stakeholders. It pointedly reminds us that the stable industrial relations here is not a given but needs to be nurtured in tandem with the changing landscape.

For the Singaporean public, many of whom were affronted by the brazen action of the mainland Chinese bus drivers, it is also time we examine and reflect on our attitudes and mindsets towards foreign workers in Singapore

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China bus drivers' pay is fair, SMRT CEO insists

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek on Monday reiterated to bus drivers from China that their existing compensation is fair despite being lower than that of their Malaysian colleagues.

In his first townhall session with the drivers in the wake of their two-day “illegal strike” last week,Kuek noted that with the transport, accommodation and utilities of about $275 borne by the company for the China bus drivers and not for the Malaysian drivers, “your compensation terms... are fair and equitable”.
Seemingly hinting that no further pay raise would be forthcoming, Kuek said that, with recent increments, the starting pay of the mainland China drivers is now $1,100. 

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Is Desmond Kuek a responsible SMRT CEO?

Whilst SMRT was inundated by a sudden illegal strike by 171 PRC bus drivers on Monday 26 November, the smart alec SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek was merrily pampering himself on his vacation in the United States. How he could obtain leave hardly two months after assuming duty as CEO in SMRT is mind-boggling. If responsibility is a trait in his character, it does not seem to be evident. It was no ordinary strike and government minister and SMRT senior management staff were involved with dealing with this complex situation. Since this was a strike of great gravity, was it not incumbent upon the CEO to cut short his vacation in the US and return immediately to Singapore to assume overall control of the strike instead of leaving such an important responsibility to his senior management to handle?

And could it not have been more comical and irresponsible that this smart alec Desmond Kuek saw it fit to return to Singapore on 30 November after the tumult arising from the illegal strike had been subdued? He said that although he was on leave in the United States, he was in constant contact with his senior management during the illegal  strike. His involvement was almost "in real time". He was constantly updated and made decisions collectively with his management team, he said.

Could there have been a bigger joker than this man Desmond Kuek to expect discerning Singaporeans to believe his fallacious argument that his remote communication with his senior management staff to deal with the PRC bus drivers' strike is the same as being on the spot himself to direct operations as a CEO? Would it not have been the acme of irresponsibility? Mr Kuek should have his head examined for lack of sanity. He should have come out with something more genuine for Singaporeans to accept his sincerity.

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SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek

Sammyboy.com, 1 Dec 2012
 How did a
- OMS scholar
- schooled in Oxford
- schooled in Harvard
- SAF 6th SAF Defence Chief
- member of elite Admin Service
- Permanent Secretary
- CEO of one of the biggest GLC
Failed to show his face in the midst of the crisis, absolutely no sound or picture, Full story


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Strike shows failure in settlements of labour dispute, says Workers' Party

The Workers' Party has been following with great concern the unfolding events surrounding the strike by SMRT bus drivers on 26-27 November 2012. As a result of the strike, some bus services were disrupted and commuters suffered inconveniences on our already-crowded public transport network. This is the first strike in Singapore in more than 25 years.

We are disappointed that it took a strike to bring to the forefront the bus drivers' grievances about their pay and living conditions. We believe that workers' rights to engage in industrial action (including strikes) must only be done within the bounds of the law. Strikes should be - and usually are - a measure of last resort by workers who have exhausted all other avenues to persuade management to address their concerns.

This strike signals a failure in the labour dispute settlement process within SMRT. By its own admission, the SMRT management needs to improve the way it engages its bus drivers. While much attention this week has focused on the grievances of the bus drivers from China, SMRT must address legitimate concerns that have been raised by all its bus drivers since the recent revision of salaries and work hours.

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Singapore bus driver sentenced to jail for strike

Singapore sentenced a Chinese immigrant bus driver to six weeks in prison Monday for his involvement in the city-state’s first labor strike in 26 years.

Pushing for the jail term as a deterrent, the prosecution argued in court that although Bao Feng Shan, 38, was not an instigator of the strike, he was “far from a mere passive participant.”

The prosecution said a lenient approach may encourage others to think that they can commit similar offences and “conveniently express remorse to escape custodial sentence.”

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Singapore Deportations Show Strains in Work Force

Lee Rues Singapore as Retirement Home Unless Birthrate Rises
Home prices climbed to a record in the third quarter, even after the government introduced six rounds of measures since the beginning of 2010 to rein in demand. Photographer: Sam Kang Li/Bloomberg

Singapore’s first labor protest since the 1980s led to the deportation of 29 Chinese bus drivers yesterday and the prosecution of five others, highlighting the difficulty balancing a work force reliant on foreign employees

More than 170 bus drivers failed to report for duty on Nov. 26, while 88 halted work the next day, according to SMRT Corp. (MRT), Singapore’s biggest subway operator and one of its two main bus companies. The striking workers, all from China, were unhappy with their salary increments and raised concerns about living conditions, SMRT said.

The deportations and strike show the perceived inequality among workers on an island reliant on foreign labor with limited union representation. In a city with 3.3 million citizens and 2 million foreigners, complaints about overseas workers depriving locals of jobs and driving up home prices helped opposition parties win record support in last year’s general elections.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry weighs in on the arrest of PRC bus drivers, calls for "discreet and proper handling" of case
People's Daily Online 1 Dec 2012
China on Friday called on Singapore to properly deal with the case of Chinese bus drivers arrested following a strike.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei made the remarks at a daily news briefing when asked to comment on the arrest of four Chinese bus drivers employed by Singapore's public transport company on suspicion of instigating an "illegal strike." 

China calls on the Singaporean side to take Chinese workers' specific conditions and legitimate appeals into full consideration, discreetly and properly handle the case, and substantially protect the lawful rights of the arrested Chinese workers, Hong said.

The spokesman said the Chinese Foreign Ministry and Chinese Embassy in Singapore have paid great attention to the case and maintained close contact with the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Manpower and the police authorities of Singapore. Full story

Related:
  1. China responds to Singapore's Chinese bus driver arrests - Xinhua
  2. China Expresses Concern as Singapore Charges Bus Drivers - BusinessWeek 
  3. China responds to Singapore's Chinese bus driver arrests - Global Times
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What a striking difference five days made


“This strike action has succeeded beyond our imagination.”

What has happened in the space of these five days since those Chinese drivers first went on strike?
  • Ministry of Manpower (MOM) warned SMRT to thoroughly review and improve its human resource and management practices.
  • SMRT announced that it was already planning to give the drivers a $25 increment.
  • SMRT also said it is now looking into their wage concerns and will share its decision with them next week.
  • A first townhall was held with China drivers.
  • Living conditions in the dormitories will be improved through repairing defects and carrying out remedial work on broken fittings.
  • Fumigation has been arranged to fix the bed bug problem.
  • The drivers will be moved to HDB flats and apartments once the dormitory rental agreements expire.
  • A round-the-clock telephone hotline and an email helpdesk have been set up for drivers to provide feedback.
  • SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek, after his long period of no-show, visited the workers’ dormitory to understand first-hand their concerns.
Such efficiency! Would all these have happened if the drivers went through the proper channels of feedback to the management? Would all these have happened if they had been members of the union?

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One strike and you're out



SO RARE is industrial action in Singapore that the government and press seem to be hazy about the vocabulary. When 171 bus drivers employed by SMRT, a government-owned firm, refused to go to work on November 26th and staged a sit-in at their dormitory, the Straits Times, a pro-government daily, termed it an “action”, “protest”, “episode” and “wage dispute”.

Only later was the “s” word dragged out of the dictionary. After dozens of drivers stayed away from work for a second day, the front-page headline on November 28th was: “Govt moves against illegal strike.”

“Mr Brown”, a local blogger, noticing the reluctance to call a stoppage a strike, asked his Twitter followers for suggestions for other options. Among the ideas were “unhappy gathering”, “disgruntled sit-in” and, in a dig at the government’s  much-touted effort to reconnect with its people, “the national bus drivers’ conversation”.

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Strike by China bus drivers tests Singapore’s patience



This week’s walkout in Singapore by dozens of mainland Chinese bus drivers over disparities in pay would have been considered small, calm and short-lived in almost any other nation.

But the strike, in breach of the law and mostly over by today, was the first significant industrial action in the tightly regulated Asian financial centre in more than 25 years.

For the first two days of this week, buses ran late and crowded in a city that prides itself on efficiency, leading to complaints from customers

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Wildcat strike raises questions

Rreliance on China workers has put the government in a bind because it cannot be too soft or too tough.

Singapore’s first strike in a generation staged by large numbers of Chinese workers has highlighted a potential security risk posed by the presence of foreign workers.

Happily lasting only two days, some 177 bus drivers from China staged a wildcat strike on Monday against pay disparity (compared with Malaysians) and poor living conditions.

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Strikers dealt with in fair, 'very deliberate' way

The Government has been "very deliberate and very measured" in its handling of the SMRT bus drivers' illegal strike, said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, and it has sought to ensure it is dealt with "in a fair and balanced way, while ensuring firm action against those who broke the law" so as to preserve Singapore's industrial harmony and tripartite relationship.

Speaking this afternoon at the press conference to give an update on the Government's actions against key participants in the strike, Mr Tan noted that "investigations were done extensively and thoroughly, in due accordance with the law."

In taking action, the Government took into account "the roles that the bus drivers played in the illegal strike and the recalcitrance of the bus drivers who participated in the strike on the second day, despite the Government's best efforts to persuade them to abort their plans and return to work", he said.

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Singapore strike exposes labor tensions

With its drab dormitories and factory buildings, the Woodlands industrial area of Singapore could not be further removed from the city-state’s image as a burgeoning Asian financial center.

But this week, 259 bus drivers from mainland China went on a two-day strike at a public bus company in a protest over pay and living conditions, including an infestation of bed bugs in mattresses at the company’s rented dormitories in the area

It was the first such industrial action in 26 years in Singapore, which has long encouraged negotiations between employers and workers to avoid conflict

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Ex-SAF General Desmond Kuek admits SMRT could have done more to engage our drivers
Yahoo! News Singapore, 1 Dec 2012
SMRT chief Desmond Kuek on Friday admitted management could have done more to engage and pro-actively manage its foreign bus driver staff.

Referring to the mass strike by 171 drivers from China earlier this week as an "unfortunate incident", the 48-year-old former Chief of Army said, "It is unfortunate that this incident has happened.

It shows that more needs to be done by Management to proactively manage and engage our Service Leaders (SLs)." Full story

Related:
SMRT CEO Lt-General Desmond Kuek met with bus drivers after returning from his long holiday in United States 

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WP says SMRT must address workers' grievances better 

The Workers' Party said it is disappointed that it has taken a strike to bring to the forefront the bus drivers' grievances about their pay and living conditions.

In a statement issued on Friday evening, the party said the strike signals a failure in the labour dispute settlement process within SMRT.

It said while much attention this week has focused on the grievances of the bus drivers from China, SMRT must also address legitimate concerns that have been raised by all its bus drivers since the recent revision of salaries and work hours.

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SMRT bus drivers’ strike: A sign of things to come?


Singapore’s low-wage foreign worker employment system hinges mainly on the import not simply of the workers themselves, but also the low wages and poor working conditions of their source countries to Singapore

What now as Singapore reels from the shock of dealing with its first industrial strike in some 26 years?

From the perspective of labour economics assistant professor Walter Edgar Theseira, who teaches at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the strike and its aftermath have demonstrated “potentially serious vulnerabilities” that arise from Singapore’s significant reliance on low-cost foreign labour.

To him, in fact, the strike could be viewed in the same vein as the Foxconn industrial actions in China — as a key sign to the end of an era of low wages and poor working conditions. 

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The Taming of the Union

Now that Singapore’s long prevailing industrial “peace” was broken, and by a group of foreign workers, what are the lessons and implications? At the time I was writing this blogpost, news broke that four China bus drivers were arrested for “instigating” the illegal strike. This is a predictable outcome following the government’s statement that it has “zero-tolerance” for illegal industrial action.

In the past decades since Independence, Singapore’s industrial relations were transformed each time a major strike happened. Will this time be no exception? How will the government further tighten the space for strikes and other industrial action, legal or illegal?

The strike also shows how ill-prepared the government is for the consequences of its liberal immigration policy. Not only did it not foresee the strain of a huge foreigner influx on our infrastructure, the cost of living, and Singaporeans’ disgruntlement, it also failed to see how foreign workers, unlike “tamed” Singaporeans, are not as submissive and will fight for their rights when they perceive themselves to be exploited or treated unfairly. The China-Chinese in particular are no stranger to industrial action despite tighter controls and harsher clamp-downs in their homeland.

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Singapore bus driver strike makes world news


The strike by Chinese SMRT bus drivers has made news worldwide. (AFP Photo)

This week’s strike involving  171 SMRT bus drivers in Singapore has gone around the world and has been picked up by international media.

The strike came about after a Chinese bus driver wrote a post on Chinese social media site Baidu asking other Chinese bus drivers to join him in a labour strike, a first in 26 years for Singapore. Their main concerns: unfair wages and poor living conditions. Four of the drivers have since been charged for inciting the illegal strike.

Wall Street Journal reported, “Some Singaporeans say foreign-born workers take jobs, depress lower-end salaries, push up property prices and put strains on infrastructure, especially Singapore's crowded subways. But foreign workers performing low-skill tasks are a crucial part of the economy, particularly with many new developments and transport links being built every year. Tensions have been fanned by incidents including a deadly car crash in May caused by a Chinese national in a speeding Ferrari and the assault of a local taxi driver by several expatriates in 2010.”

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SMRT Chinese drivers strike: A bus-load of issues — Void Decker (TR Emeritus)

This strike by SMRT’s Chinese bus drivers is turning out to be a very interesting development. And it’s not just the thesaurus’s worth of euphemisms that we learned yesterday. While the mainstream media is busy explaining itself today why it avoided the word “strike” — because apparently what they did is technically not one — and whether it’s legal or not, the incident has brought out a whole load of social issues that deserve closer examination. 

Foreign labour pay - It is now out in the open that SMRT pays its bus drivers differently for the same job. This differentiation applies not only between citizens and non-citizens but even amongst foreign employees from different countries. SMRT may attempt to explain this down to different levels of job responsibilities, experience or language skills, but not many will be convinced.

For Singaporeans, it will be short-sighted to find any comfort in this affirmation that locals get paid more. If employers can pay foreigners less, there is little incentive to get Singaporeans to do these jobs. And if a big employer like SMRT can get away with such a practice, what about the SMEs? After all, they are keen to blame it on Singaporeans for being picky about lower level jobs. It is telling on what is perhaps an accepted and widespread practice when one of the Chinese drivers stated clearly that they don’t expect to be paid the same level as Singaporeans.

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Four PRC Bus Drivers Arrested And Charged For Instigated Other SMRT Drivers To Go On Strike

Question: Why others who participated are not charged too? Does the law states that only the ringleaders are liable to be charged for illegal strike?

Four China nationals were charged Thursday evening for engaging in a conspiracy to get SMRT bus drivers to take part in an illegal strike earlier this week.

Those charged -- He Jun Ling, 32; Gao Yue Qiang, 32; Weng Xianjie, 39; and Liu Xiangying, 33 -- had been arrested by police over Wednesday and Thursday.

Seen as the ringleaders, Gao, Weng and Liu each face one count while He faces two counts of inciting SMRT workmen to take part in the strike.

According to the charge sheets, He made a post in the Chinese language on http://tieba.baidu.com titled "The insults and humiliations suffered by Singapore drivers (SMRT) (where is the dignity of the People's Republic of China bus drivers)" Full story

Related:
  1. Four Chinese bus drivers arrested in Singapore following rare protest - Xinhua
  2. Police arrest four Chinese drivers for Singapore strike - MSN Malaysia News
  3. Police arrest four Chinese drivers for S'pore strike - thesundaily.my 
  4. Four Chinese drivers charged over Singapore bus strike - Malaysia Star 
  5. Singapore charges organizers of rare strike - boston.com 
  6. Singapore charges Chinese immigrant bus drivers who instigated first strike in nearly 30 years - The Washington Post 
  7. Singapore charges organizers of rare strike - BusinessWeek 
  8. Singapore charges organizers of rare strike - FindLaw.com 
  9. Singapore charges Chinese immigrant bus drivers who instigated first strike in nearly 30 years - The Republic

1 comment: Anonymous said...

Yes the law only targets instigators
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China 'Concerned' by Singapore's Arrest of Chinese Bus Drivers

China has expressed "great concern" about Singapore's arrest of four Chinese bus drivers accused of involvement in a rare strike in the Southeast Asian nation earlier this week.

Singapore police arrested the four Chinese immigrant workers on Wednesday and Thursday and charged them with inciting an illegal strike, an offense punishable by up to a year in prison and a maximum fine of $1,600. One of the men faces an additional charge of posting Internet messages that encouraged his co-workers to strike.

Chinese Migrants in Singapore: Singapore is home to 200,000 Chinese migrants

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Desmond Kuek, spoke on SMRT issues 

It is good that WP has joined in to have a say in the SMRT drivers strike. It also called for fair treatment of workers and decent and living conditions. Apparently no one knew that the PRC workers were having problems in compensation and living in less than decent quarters.

The fact that there were admissions to such allegations is proof that things have to be improved. This blind syndrome of seeing but not seeing is becoming a disease affecting Sinkies. It is the consequence of marginable and incremental changes that led to the acceptance of gross indecency without being noticed as the reference point is the last case. It is like earning a million bucks and getting a 5% increment of 50k is nothing without knowing that the starting point was a $50k base salary.

By now it is clear that the main issues to the labour dispute were pay and living conditions. The latter is easier to resolve as workers, especially captains, need to live in conditions befitting of a captain, not a labour camp or abode fit for foreign workers. Good that the SMRT management is looking into the matter now.

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Singapore : Zero Tolerance for Strikes

When I was a kid, my neighbor was a bus driver. Today, the bus companies like to use this lofty term "bus captain" instead of the more humble "bus driver". But the bus driver of the 80s makes a decent living and the "bus captain" today struggle to make ends meet.

My neighbor raised a family with 6 kids and owned HDB flat on his bus driver's salary. He had 6 kids because he wanted a boy and the first 5 children were girls. You look at how those drivers who went on strike were housed - 10 to a room in the dorm - and the low wages they were paid. It just pulls down what the bus companies will offer for local drivers. Bus companies complained that they need more foreigner drivers because they were not willing to pay wages adjusted for the high and rising cost of living in Singapore.

Things are so bad at SMRT, even workers from a developing world country can't accept the way they are managed and went on strike.  If these workers are seen as providing important essential services and will never be allowed to strike, why aren't they paid well to ensure the availability of these services - the 2 former generals from SAF, one in charge of the manpower, the other CEO of SMRT should know better...we don't pay our SAF regulars peanuts like we do our drivers.

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As bus drivers strike, government messaging goes into overdrive



I have three points to make about the industrial action undertaken by bus drivers of SMRT Corp earlier this week.  171 of them, all recruited from China, failed to show up for work last Monday; 88 were absent the following day (Source: Straits Times, 1 Dec 2012, SMRT has deep-seated issues: CEO).

My 3 points are:
1.  There should be equal pay for equal work;
2. The government is shooting itself in its own foot by abandoning principle #1 above;
3. The government pretends there is a process for labour justice, but there isn’t and its absence sows the seed for future instability. 

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Strike, and You're Out!

I want Tiongs, Banglas, Letticias. We need them in our economy. Construction, drivers, sales staff, nurses, cleaners, KTV girls, and other jobs that locals are not desperate enough to do. Despite what small-minded Singaporeans think that we should kick them all out. BTW I have even seen Pinoys cook and serve Chinese-style mee pok in food courts! They put so much vinegar into the mee pok, as if like their Pinoy dishes! WTF

Recently, SMRT bus drivers went on strike, more than 100 some more. They think it is some Foxconn strike! In a strike, there are always 2 sides to the story and given SMRT's pathetic track record on maintenance, I tend to give the bus drivers some leeway about their sad sob story (dirty dorms, not enough sleep, low pay - fucking pussies, it sounds like my BMT).

However, people were inconvenienced and public transport, like public utilities and services should never be held hostage by strikers, especially if they are foreigners. Giordano or McDonalds workers strike I don't care. But SMRT staff?

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SDP: Time to reinstate workers’ rights

Singapore’s workers have been exploited for far too long. Since the detention of opposition and trade union leaders like Lim Chin Siong and the eradication of free trade unions together with the restructuring of the employment laws in the 1960s, the PAP has, together with Western neoliberals, systematically dismantled the legitimate rights of the Singaporean worker.

While we have the highest number of millionaires per capita making us the richest country in the world, nearly 5 percent of our workers are paid $500 a month. Their wages have not risen in the last 10 years. The result is an enormous income inequality, the highest in the industrialised world.

And while Singaporeans work the most number of hours, according to a survey by the International Labour Organisation, real wages continue to decline. This has made us one of the most stressful countries in Asia to work; our workers are among the unhappiest.

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SMRT's PRC drivers' strike and the deafening silence of the PAP Government

This strike by the PRC drivers of SMRT may have wider implications. For example, in May this year, some Singapore drivers of SMRT aired their grievances about wages and working hours as well. The Union then tasked Ong Ye Kung, then-Deputy Secretary General of NTUC to address the grievances. Ong Ye Kun was also an independent director of SMRT’s board at that time. The drivers then were reportedly 'particularly angry with Ong for “short selling” them and spoke irately about his conflict of interests'. Has that issue been resolved? How much effort did NTWU put in to address the Singapore drivers' grievances about wages and working hours?



The table above (link: http://www.worldsalaries.org/busdriver.shtml) which compares the salaries of bus drivers from around the world, says that the bus drivers in Singapore are one of the worst paid, when you compare their wages with the bus drivers from other first world countries.

The strike by SMRT's PRC drivers tells us that we cannot be overly reliant on foreigners for our essential services. We have to attract more Singaporean drivers to drive our buses, and for that they must be offered a competitive salary, and their working hours has got to be structured in such a way that they too can enjoy work-life balance.

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NTUC: We will continue to bring FT workers into the union


NTUC Assistant Secretary-General and NMP Cham Hui Fong

Ms Cham said, “There are valuable lessons to be learnt from this incident at SMRT. Management should recognise the positive role the union can play. Union will continue to step up efforts to bring more foreign workers into their membership base.

On their part, foreign drivers should see the benefit of joining the union so that the union can be of assistance to them.”

“We have enjoyed industrial peace as we have a system in place to deal with workplace issues and grievances fairly and constructively. The law should always be abided to.”

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Vital to raise appeal of bus-driving as a career 

While the illegal strike is being dealt with by the authorities, what also deserves study is why Singapore seems unable to even attract enough Malaysians to drive its buses, despite the Singapore dollar strengthening by nearly 30 per cent since the 1990s. 

Can we assume that the lot for bus drivers has worsened - or at least stagnated - when compared with people in other jobs? The short answer is yes. 

According to statistics, the basic starting monthly pay of a Singapore bus driver was less than $1,400 before adjustments were made this year. With overtime and allowances, it rises to $1,800. That is significantly below the national median wage of $2,925 of full-time employed residents last year.

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INDERJIT SINGH: STRIKE CULTURE CANNOT BE ALLOWED IN SINGAPORE

Mr Singh said the SMRT incident raises a new issue for all Singaporeans as people from around the world now work in Singapore and there are some who are not used to the working culture here.

Calling the strike illegal, Mr Singh said he hopes to see a firm and stern action taken.

He said: "The workers who have done this have already broken some rules according to the law and they should be taken to action. The second thing is the government, especially for essential services, need to go back and review with all the companies to see if they got their procedures right so that this does not happen again."

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It takes a bunch of non-elite educated ‘communists’ to show that S’pore is not well



There is something fundamental involved here which has to do with treating people fairly and justly. It is not just a matter of ethics (this is examined further in another piece here, “Voodoo ethics”), but of morality and humanity.

The people standing up all over the world are not just protesting about money, they are revolting because they are now aware of the root cause of the issue: That they have been taken for a ride by elites who have enriched themselves at the expense of everyone else and that there are no sustainable profit-driven models for growth and prosperity.

As usual, it takes a bunch of non-elite educated ‘communists’ to show that all is not well and that it is time to wake-up.

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Striking an Important Point


The two days of strikes by low-paid SMRT bus drivers caused a dent in Singapore's image, otherwise known for our “peaceful” and “strike-free” industrial relations. 

As if in response to this dent, Acting Minister for Manpower Mr Tan Chuan-Jin has issued a statement calling these strikes “illegal” and vowed to deal with the strike in accordance to the law as part of the Government’s “zero tolerance” policy. He helpfully spelt out the penalties of these strikes –  “a fine not exceeding $2,000, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both”.

Online commentators should likewise take heed for as the Minister has also kindly advised, “Persons who incite … also face the same maximum penalty.” SMRT has also decided to lodge a police report.

Instead of hiding behind the “law” and being quick to condemn these strikes, there are some important lessons to be learnt from these incidents.

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20 SMRT bus drivers hauled up for questioning by police
Yahoo! News Singapore, 28 Nov 2012
20 Chinese bus drivers are "assisting" police in the investigation into the strike held in Singapore earlier this week, transport operator SMRT said Wednesday.

Some bus drivers were spotted going in to the Police Cantonment Complex before noon Wednesday and were still there by late afternoon, local media reported.

An SMRT spokesperson said six bus drivers who did not turn up for work Wednesday had valid reasons for their absence. Full story 

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When is a strike illegal?

In February, a group of 200 workers, most of whom were Bangladeshi, protested in an open field in Tampines over their wages.

Strikes were common in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s before the laws were tightened.

The last strike organised by the NTUC happened in 1986, when 61 members of the Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees Union branch in Hydril, an oilfield equipment company, refused to work.

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He Jun Ling, leader of SMRT bus driver “no show"

He Jun Ling is just an ordinary bus driver from mainland China working in SMRT bus service, serving the people of Singapore and earning a humble pay.

But on Sunday, his “leadership” quality spurred him to an action which took Singapore and Singaporeans by shock and surprise and which now made him appear on front-page newspapers in Singapore and overseas.

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The sacrifice of the four PRC bus drivers


Many responses but Nicholas Chin post attracted 35 likes. I agree with him.

  • Nicholas Chin I really don't understand how people can criticise what these Chinese nationals did. Do you realise that one day it could be you receiving the short end of the stick? What will you do when despite your hard work, the company only wants to exploit you, the goverment tells you 'tough luck' and quitting is not an option?
    13 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 35

As long as the job market is very tight employers are afraid to treat workers badly.

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Allegations That Need To Be Looked Into

Just 2 days after I labeled the reaction of the police an over-reaction, the laughable way the Singapore government is dealing with the strike by Chinese bus drivers has pummeled to new depths.

While Brigadier General and Acting Minister of Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin has come out to defend the reasoning why the government had initially refused to call the actions of the bus drivers a strike, there is one thing he seem to be avoid mentioning; how valid are the complains of the Chinese drivers?

The drivers were not only complaining about their poor pay but also their poor living conditions. I read that one driver had said that 8 people were living in a room and there were rats in their dormitory. All these in a dormitory provided by SMRT which is owned by Temasek Holdings!

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End of 26-year strike-free spell in Singapore

When 171 SMRT bus drivers from China refused to go to work on Monday, they ended a long 26-year strike-free spell in Singapore. The last instance was on Jan2, 1986, when 61 workers from American oilfield equipment company Hydril picketed outside their Tuas factory. They were protesting against anti-union initiatives that the firm had taken, including axing six unionists.

While the strike may have been the first in 26 years, there have been some close shaves in between. On May 11, 1988, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) staged a massive protest involving 4,000 workers in Shenton Way to signal its unhappiness with the United States for interfering with Singapore's domestic politics. In 2002, Singapore Airlines pilots threatened to take "industrial action" when they butted heads with the airline over their in-flight breaks. Even this week's brush was not SMRT's first with its workers. On March 29, 1988, 20 train drivers were absent from work. The following day, 40 did not show up.

There have been several cases of disgruntled workers from China staging protests in recent times. In August, over 100 Panasonic factory workers from China started an online petition demanding higher pay and better working conditions. Panasonic took steps to remedy some of their grievances. Last year, two Chinese nationals decided to take matters into their own hands. One climbed up a 30m-tall crane and refused to come down for over two hours until a pay dispute was settled. Another clung onto scaffolding seven storeys high and threatened to jump to his death unless his employer gave him $15,000. Both were charged and jailed.

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related:
Arrests, Abuses And Alleged Assaults
Lessons to learn from the illegal SMRT strike
Why it took time to label protest a strike
Wage dispute? Protest? Or strike?