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Singapore: Punitive action against bus drivers on strike condemned

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Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) strongly condemned the detention and prosecution by the Singapore authorities against the bus drivers who went on strike over a wage dispute on 26 and 27 November 2012. The Bangkok-based regional human rights organisation, representing 47 NGOs in 16 countries across Asia, further called for their immediate release and for all charges against them to be dropped.

The five bus drivers, all of whom are Chinese nationals, have been charged under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act in relation to a strike on 26-27 November 2012 involving over 170 Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) bus drivers that is deemed illegal by the authorities. One of the five, Bao Feng Shan, pleaded guilty to charges under Section 9(1) of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act for his involvement in the strike and was sentenced to 6 weeks in prison. He was not legally represented in remand or in court. Meanwhile, four others have been charged under Section 10(a) of the same Act, for allegedly instigating and inciting other bus drivers to participate in the strike. They are still in remand and are expected to appear in court on 6 December 2012. One from among the group has been charged with a further count of incitement for posting a notice on a website to call other workers to strike.

Furthermore, 29 other bus drivers involved in the strike, all of whom are also Chinese nationals, have had their Work Passes revoked and were subsequently repatriated on 2 December 2012. It remains unclear on what grounds their permits have been cancelled.

“We condemn the Singapore government’s criminalisation of the exercise of fundamental rights by the bus drivers who went on strike. The swift and harsh actions overlook the bases of their complaints about wage discrepancies and poor housing. Furthermore, the charges of instigation and incitement under Section 10(a) of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which denies them any right to bail, is highly disproportionate and unacceptable,” said Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.

FORUM-ASIA strongly disputed The Ministry of Manpower’s allegation that this strike presented a threat to public order. “The allegation by the Ministry of Manpower is misleading as the bus drivers had assembled peacefully in their living quarters. Such restriction of rights on broad and sweeping grounds is unjustifiable”, said Yap.

Existing dialogue and negotiation options with the bus company SMRT have reportedly been ineffective. Moreover, the existing trade unions have expressed that they do not have the legal mandate to represent the bus drivers involved because they are not union members.

“All workers, national and foreign, must be able to form or join independent trade unions of their own choosing that promote and protect their rights and have the right to organise without being subjected to prosecution and other legal actions,” said Yap.

The regional human rights group called for a full and independent inquiry into this industrial dispute. As a member State of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Singapore must adhere to international labour law and standards, such as the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. “Specifically, as a State Party to the ILO Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining, the Singapore government should implement its obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly at all times,” said Yap.

For inquiries, please contact:

  • Mr. John Liu, East Asia Program Officer, tel: +66 2 6379126, mobile: +66 80 2828610, and email: [email protected]

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