4 jailed ex-SMRT bus drivers back in China

Former SMRT bus driver He Jun Ling speaking in an interview with documentary filmmaker Lynn Lee. (Screengrab: LianAin Films)

Four former SMRT bus drivers jailed over holding a rare strike in Singapore have been released from prison and have returned to China, according to a civil society group.

Gao Yue Qiang, 32, Liu Xiangying, 33, and Wang Xianjie, 39, served six-week sentences for instigating an "illegal strike" in November last year, while 32-year-old He Jun Ling, who faced two charges, was jailed for seven weeks.

They were among 171 SMRT bus drivers from China who were protesting the disparity in salary between them and Malaysian bus drivers.

He and Liu also alleged that they were beaten during interrogations by the Singapore police last year. Singapore police's Internal Affairs Office was tasked to investigate the allegations.

In a statement, Workfair Singapore said that even though the drivers were no longer in Singapore, the incident and subsequent developments "deserve continued scrutiny".

It also reiterated its call to: redress imbalance of power between corporations and workers; protect all workers against inequality, exploitation and discrimination in the workplace;  allow independent trade unions in Singapore; review legislation that criminalises workers who take strike action.

"The strike itself raised a range of issues related to workers’ rights: violations of the principle of equal pay for equal work, the persistence of substandard housing conditions for migrant workers and the low wages earned by public transport workers such as bus drivers," said Workfair.

The group also raised questions about the right to strike, adding that in Singapore, bus drivers are labelled ‘essential workers’, which make their strike action illegal without giving 14 days notice, among other conditions.

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