Five ex-SMRT bus drivers have been charged for criminal offences. Bao Fengshan’s case was heard on 3 December 2012. He was accused of “commencing the strike”, pleaded guilty and was jailed six weeks. (Channel NewsAsia, 3 Dec 2012, 6 weeks’ jail for SMRT bus driver involved in strike, by Dylan Loh)

Gao Yueqiang, 32; Liu Xiangying, 33; Wang Xianjie, 33 and He Junling, 32  appeared in court on 5 December 2012 and were granted time to find lawyers. Well-wishers bailed them out ($10,000 each, except for He Junling $20,000 because he faced two charges) and four pro-bono lawyers were engaged. (Today, 6 Dec 2012, Striking bus drivers appear in court, by Teo Xuanwei). The four appeared in court again on 12 December and their lawyers successfully asked for a further week’s adjournment.

On Monday, 26 Nov 2012, 171 bus drivers that SMRT had recruited from China failed to report for work. They stayed within their dormitories. They were reportedly unhappy with various salary-related issues, including a change in the terms of employment mid 2012 which they felt were worse than the original terms they had signed up for. There were also grievances that Malaysian drivers were paid and treated more favourably than Chinese drivers. The conditions of their accommodation also featured.

On Tuesday, 88 drivers stayed away from work again.

The government termed their action an “illegal strike” saying public transport is classified as an “essential service”, and that there should be “zero tolerance”.

The Government sharply rebuked the SMRT bus drivers who refused to return to work yesterday, a day after they had staged a similar protest, saying they had “clearly crossed the line” by staging an illegal strike.

Chastising them for “taking matters into their own hands”, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said the Government had zero tolerance for the drivers’ actions because they had disrupted an essential service and affected the daily life of the community, as well as hurt Singapore’s industrial harmony.

Their illegal conduct will be investigated, he said at a press conference called yesterday evening after 88 drivers refused to take to the wheel.

The 88 were part of a bigger group of 171 – earlier statements from operator SMRT numbered them at 102 – who staged a similar action on Monday over salary increases.

— Today, 28 November 2012, SMRT lodges police report, Manpower Ministry will look into drivers’ complaints, by Teo Xuanwei

The Chinese embassy sent representatives to the workers’ dormitories during the two days of action and offered consular assistance. Beijing’s Commerce Ministry issued a statement saying it was “paying very close attention to this labour dispute” and that it “hopes related parties will properly handle and respond positively to the reasonable demands of Chinese drivers to be paid the same wages for doing the same work and be treated fairly, and protect the legal rights of Chinese workers.”.

Besides these five charged, 29 others had their employment terminated and were repatriated, while “Over 150 other drivers will be let off, with police warning letters.” (Today, 2 Dec 2012, 29 ex-SMRT bus drivers involved in illegal strike sent back to China).

TWC2 arranged food and accommodation for the 4 workers out on bail and launched an appeal for donations to this end. We felt it was important for due process that they should not be rushed into pleas and given time to prepare their legal defence with their respective lawyers.