By Ekaterina Vasileva and Kenneth Tan
Police presence was heavy in the days following the strike at the dormitory housing the Chinese bus drivers in Woodlands, Singapore.
This week, Singapore police arrested five Chinese bus drivers who were participating in a labor strike over inadequate pay at SMRT Buses Ltd., one of the main bus companies in Singapore. The drivers were charged with planning to incite SMRT workers, and one of them was also charged with initiating the strike.
Another 29 bus drivers have since had their work permits revoked and are due to be repatriated to China. 150 other bus drivers who took part in the strike will be let off with a warning.
In Singapore, strikes are illegal for workers in “essential services” without a two weeks’ notice to the employer.
This arrest was brought to the attention of the Chinese embassy in Singapore as well as the Chinese Foreign Ministry who are currently in “close communication” with the Singapore government, urging for the resolution of the dispute and equal pay for the Chinese bus drivers.
Singapore’s acting labour minister Tan Chuan-Jin brushed aside suggestions that this would affect bilateral relations with China and stressed that it was “important not to politicise the issue”.
At the news conference on Saturday, the minister did not directly address key grievances raised by the striking Chinese drivers which include allegations of discrimination and significantly lower pay than that received by Malaysian drivers. The bus company said in its defence that Malaysian drivers were given a higher salary because they were mostly commuting from Malaysia and the company was not responsible for their housing.
The strike by the Chinese bus drivers — Singapore’s first since 1986 — has reignited the debate on the island’s immigration policy, an issue which featured strongly in last year’s general elections and saw the ruling People’s Action Party mark its worst performance since independence.
An open doors policy has seen the population of the city-state swell by over two million in a decade to hit 5.3 million in 2012. The influx of more than a million Chinese nationals into the crowded island has fuelled rising resentment against the newcomers for taking jobs away from the locals in Singapore’s own “anti-locust” debate.