SMRT bus driver strike: Were they really treated fairly?

The following is an excerpt from Dr Vincent Wijeysingha's Facebook post which can be found here. It has been reproduced here with permission from the author.

People have speculated whether the drivers’ claims were true or not or whether they were excessive and unreasonable. Should we or should we not allow strikes and particularly in the essential services which hold up and inconvenience our lives. We should get rid of these foreigners and employ more locals so that they can’t hold ‘us’ hostage. Surprisingly, some are even angry that their action resulted in rapid remedial action by the authorities. And of course, taking shelter in the safest of all propositions, some have cried that the law is the law and no one should break it.

Nowhere, except among our more gifted commentators such as Andrew Loh and Alex Au have I heard the harder questions asked and challenged laid. Nowhere did I hear anyone ask how their families were coping with a salary increase of thirteen cents an hour. Nowhere did I hear the cry raised that we should at least wait to hear the whole story before moving so decisively to charge these men and then imprison them awaiting trial even though they are no danger to society and will not, cannot, abscond if bailed.

This is unbecoming of us. It is not worthy of us. Their well-being is our well-being; we cannot presume to enjoy life when the very enjoyments we take for granted have been afforded to us by the workers whom we are content to see paid so little and bullied so much when they, like Oliver Twist, ask for more. We owe them a bit more than that.

Workers rights are indivisible. We cannot ask for concessions on our own behalf but ignore or deny them to others because they happen to come from a different country. To use another hackneyed phrase, we are in this together. I can’t drive my own bus to work powered by petrol I processed myself on a road I laid myself. I can’t build my own office building or office furniture. I don’t cook my own food in the canteen or wash up the tableware.

If, as fellow workers, joint participants in this enterprise we call society, we cannot see this elementary truth, we have a lot of learning yet to do. But do it we must, because make no mistake about it, our government will have on hesitation in dealing with us in the same way it has dealt with the Chinese bus drivers. None whatsoever. Do not rest content that the PAP carries a torch for the Singaporean worker; it does not.

We cannot let these Chinese workers take the rap for asking only for fair employment. And we cannot agree to their punishment when all the processes that exist in our name denied them the basic right to have their grievances heard.

Throughout history, concessions have only been won against corporations and governments when they have been demanded. If you think that the right to an eight-hour day, a forty-hour week, a one-hour lunch break, and basic safety and health standards were given to you on a platter proffered by Lim Swee Say and his friends, you are very severely mistaken. These Chinese workers, by doing what we have been cowed from doing ourselves so long, have in fact widened the democratic space for us. And in time to come, when we are less afraid to think for ourselves, we will come to thank them.

The author is currently the treasurer of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). He is also the former executive director of Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a non-government organization advocating the rights of low-waged migrant workers.

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