On 26 Nov 2012, 171 SMRT bus drivers from the People’s Republic of China decided not to report for work. They alleged that their terms of employment are less favourable than their Malaysian counterpart and complained of poor living conditions. After intervention by officers from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the majority returned to work the next day.
Acting Minister for Manpower, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin was quick to label the action taken by the bus drivers as an “illegal strike”. Investigations were launched by the police under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (MOM report dated 27 Nov 12 on what the Acting Minister said). The press, taking the cue from the Acting Minister, immediately and relentlessly used the term “illegal strike” in their reports. The bus drivers were clearly doomed from the start with MOM and its Acting Minister taking the side of their employer, SMRT.
On 29 Nov 2012, four bus drivers were charged under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act and their cases are pending. On 1 Dec 2012, 29 bus drivers were reprimanded and repatriated upon the decision of MOM to revoke their work passes (MOM statement of 1 Dec 2012). We are not informed of the reason/s why MOM revoked their work passes so swiftly and did not allow them legal representation or give them an opportunity to be heard.
On 3 Dec 2012, one bus driver was suddenly charged in court, pleaded guilty without legal representation and sentenced to 6 weeks’ imprisonment. He is presently serving his jail term and is likely to be deported immediately upon his release.
In the various statements of the Acting Manpower Minister and press releases of MOM, shortcomings of SMRT in failing to resolve the grievances of the drivers in a timely manner were acknowledged. It was not explained why swift and harsh action was taken only against the bus drivers and not SMRT. The repeated allegation by the Acting Minister, MOM, SMRT and the mainstream media that the refusal of the bus drivers to report for work constituted an “illegal strike” gives the impression that what the bus drivers had done was “illegal” and that there was indeed a “strike”. Since the cases have not been determined by the court, it is grievously wrong and prejudicial to the bus drivers to label their action as an “illegal strike”. It is commenting on a pending case and the law is clear that such comments are sub judice and constitute contempt of court.
We, at Function 8, view with grave concern the free and frequent use of the term “illegal strike” by the Acting Minister for Manpower, MOM, SMRT and the press. The four bus drivers are awaiting trial. Repeated claims that they had participated in an “illegal strike” amount to prejudging their case. Such claims can only be calculated to influence the decision of the judge/s.
In the interest of justice and the preservation of the good name of Singapore, we call upon our ministers, all government officials, MOM, SMRT and the press to stop using the term “illegal strike” when referring to the SMRT incident. If we are a first world nation and believe in the rule of law, we must ensure that all accused persons receive a fair and just trial.
Function 8 Limited
17 December 2012