Chinese bus drivers stage work stoppage



(AFP, 26 Nov) – More than 100 mainland Chinese bus drivers in Singapore refused to work on Monday in a rare case of labour mass action in the city-state.

The drivers, disgruntled over their pay from state-linked transport firm SMRT, refused to board a shuttle that was going to ferry them from their dormitory to a nearby depot.

After talks with SMRT management with police on standby, the protesting drivers said they would report for work on Tuesday.

SMRT is 54 percent owned by state investment firm Temasek Holdings. Singapore has been hiring bus drivers from China and Malaysia because of a chronic shortage of manpower.

One of the Chinese drivers, who declined to be named, told reporters the dispute arose because they felt aggrieved over a disparity in pay between Chinese and Malaysian bus drivers.

Drivers from China earn a basic salary of Sg$1,075 ($879), while those from Malaysia earn $1,375, the driver said. The dispute was also about the lack of bonuses for Chinese bus drivers, he added.

Strikes and other forms of industrial action are rare in Singapore, where the labour movement works closely with the government and private business, making the city-state an attractive place for foreign investment.

The Ministry of Manpower issued a stern warning to the 102 drivers who took part in the stoppage, saying it “takes the workers’ actions very seriously” and was closely monitoring the situation.

In a statement, the National Transport Workers’ Union urged the Chinese drivers — who are not union members — to return to work immediately.

No major disruptions were reported during the work stoppage, which took place during Singapore’s year-end school holidays, when demand for public transport is lower.


Who says there is “strike”in Singapore? For so many years, there is no strike in Singapore at all. It’s unheard of. With our unique “tripartite” where our unions, management and government working hand in hand in a holy trinity for the betterment of the workers, why should there be a strike?

But when it did happen, as in the recent China bus drivers case at Woodlands and not too long ago when some Bangladeshi workers at Tampines went on strike, it became big news. Even foreign press reports on the latest incident. Our local press soften it by using euphemism in its news reports describing it as an “industrial incident!” Why cant they just call a spade a spade? Too ashamed to use the word “strike?”

Under The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act of Singapore, strike is illegal, in other words against the law in certain industries. There are broadly 28 categories of industries where the workers cannot stage a strike or “industrial action”. Transport workers in the essential transport industry is one of them.

Illegal strikes and lock-outs in essential services

Part III of the CLPTA deals with illegal strikes and lock-outs in essential services. Section 5 of the Act defines a strike as “the cessation of work by a body of persons employed in any essential service acting in combination, or a concerted refusal or a refusal under a common understanding of a number of persons who are or who have been so employed to continue to work or to accept employment”, and a lock-out as “the closing of a place of employment or the suspension of work, or the refusal by an employer to continue to employ any number of persons employed by him in consequence of a trade dispute, done with a view to compelling those persons, or to aid another employer in compelling persons employed by him, to accept terms or conditions of or affecting employment”. Essential services are any services, businesses, trades, undertakings, manufactures or callings included in Part I of the First Schedule to the Act…

But to be fair to the NTWU – National Transport Workers Union, those China workers are not unionised. They are not members of the NTWU. In other words, the plight of the China workers culminating in the strike has got nothing to do with the union. It is between those PRC workers and the Management.

Obviously, those China workers must be very pissed off. They are now regretting coming over here to work when the terms and conditions presented to them were so tempting back home then. They felt cheated, unfairly treated and exploited for the same job. They acknowledged that they did not mind locals getting paid more. What they were dissatisfied about is the perceived unfairness and discrimination between them and Malaysian bus drivers. That is the crux of the matter.

Since they felt so bitter, they were prepared to stage a one day strike. Worst scenario, they just returned back to China. Do you think our authorities would use the law to arrest them? Do you think those PRCs will be locked up for staging an illegal strike in an essential industry? The law is clear. They have obviously committed an offence and they should be arrested. But we know very well that no arrest will be made, just like the other case where some Bangladeshi workers refused to go to work in a construction site at Tampines.

If the same were to happen to local workers, they may not be so lucky. We locals dare not go on strike especially if we work in an essential services industry. We have our HDB loan payments to consider, our children need money to go school, our parents need us to support them and so on. We can’t afford to be arrested and locked up for staging an illegal strike. Unlike those China nationals working here, we got no where to go. Where can we go? Whereas, those China nationals could always go back to their own country if they are not happy. In other words, they could cause havoc and just leave. It reminds us of Amy Cheong – FT Australian citizen who went back to Australia after she was sacked by NTUC for making racist remarks on her FB not too long ago. Now you see the difference between us and those foreign workers?

Since we are at the mercy of those powerful figures in the tripartite holy trinity, we can never go on strike at the risk of personal ruins and destruction. So even if we work 18 hours a day (essential services are exempted from over-clocking of OT and working hours), 7 days a week under poor working conditions with little welfare and no pay rise for more than 10 years, we still cannot protest. We are not like those PRCs or foreigners working here where they don’t have the kind of family obligations and commitments here.

Those PRC workers did not commit any crime or damage any public property. They were just pissed off with the perceived unfair treatment and injustice, so they refused to go to work. Straightaway, lots of police officers and police riot vehicles surrounded the dormitory and created such a scene as though they were terrorists or serious criminals? Is it not an act of intimidation to cow them into submission? You better stop your nonsense and get back to work soon or else … What an embarrassment. If it’s in other countries, no one would even bother to report this piece of news – one day strike by dissatisfied bus drivers. But here, it is different. We are a first world country with third world economy. We are the richest country in the whole world yet we treat our workers no better than those third world countries. We are uniquely Singapore.

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7 Responses to Chinese bus drivers stage work stoppage

  1. patriot says:

    Extremely bemusing to watch on television Riot Police Contingent going to the Dormitory where the SMRT Drivers did not wish to report to work. There was no report of unruly behaviour nor was anyone reported to have called the Police. Why was so many police deployed? What and why was the Need for deploying them there?

    As reported, the China National Drivers were paid hundreds of dollars lower than their Malaysian Counterparts monthly. On top of that, they were not given bonuses which the Malaysian Drivers were given. Why are the Chinese National Drivers treated differently?

    The Chinese Ambassador/High Comnission should look into the Matter and seek justice for their citizens. No reason for the Chinese Nationals to be remunerated so much less for doing the same work.

    Had Singaporeans refused enmass to work without approval, they would be charged. Why are Foreign Workers not charged? It happened with the Bangladeshi Workers and now Chinese Nationals.

    Why are Local Workers treated unfairly just liked the Chinese National Workers in comparison to the Malaysian Workers?


  2. patriot says:

    I agree with Padaly that due to our much commitment, the Authority is able to henpeck and even harass Singaporeans in labour matters.
    Such is the Truth that even if local workers are extremely unhappy about anything, they have to squeeze their balls and bear with their problems. Other way out will be to fly out of their highrise window, common corridor, jump onto MRT track or into the reservoirs.

    The leaders are able to scheme to manipulate and exploit the people to the maximum and even made a lone person as an illegal assembly should it want to do so.

    So, when Singaporeans do not strike, rest without approval and or arrange together to talk politics saying nothing good about the Governance of Sin, it is not because they have no grievances with the Rulers. It is because the Rules are loaded against them.

    Is Singapore a fair society?


  3. Pingback: Daily SG: 28 Nov 2012 | The Singapore Daily

  4. The says:

    The legal strike route seems to be a non-starter. Even if the workers knew about the provision (which I doubt; most Singaporeans don’t know either), I doubt it will work. First, it is an essential service – which means no strike, legal or illegal. By giving 14 days’ notice and having 7 workers sign the paper, management can easily threaten or deport those who sign the notice.

    “Let angels guide you on your lofty quest !” – hmmm, sounds like the clues in Angels & Demons by Dan Brown.

  5. Saycheese says:

    It is only fair and natural that BIGFISH eat smallfish and higher mortals are standing on the shoulders of lesser mortals otherwise what is meritocracy and superior DNA for? For the daft, a single, lone person can constitute an illegal assembly but three inside a polling station is not within 200 metres of it. How Singapore legalese have mash up the English language!

  6. Sad says:

    Singapore workers have sufferened the most, silently, compared to everywhere in the world. It is no wonder many chose to emigrate with the slightest opportunity before them.

  7. goop says:

    Regarding your last post on MRT station names, here’s a petition. Do get your friends to sign it.

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