Singapore bus driver strike makes world news

The strike by Chinese SMRT bus drivers has made news worldwide. (AFP Photo)

This week’s strike involving  171 SMRT bus drivers in Singapore has gone around the world and has been picked up by international media.

The strike came about after a Chinese bus driver wrote a post on Chinese social media site Baidu asking other Chinese bus drivers to join him in a labour strike, a first in 26 years for Singapore. Their main concerns: unfair wages and poor living conditions. Four of the drivers have since been charged for inciting the illegal strike.

Wall Street Journal reported, “Some Singaporeans say foreign-born workers take jobs, depress lower-end salaries, push up property prices and put strains on infrastructure, especially Singapore's crowded subways. But foreign workers performing low-skill tasks are a crucial part of the economy, particularly with many new developments and transport links being built every year. Tensions have been fanned by incidents including a deadly car crash in May caused by a Chinese national in a speeding Ferrari and the assault of a local taxi driver by several expatriates in 2010.”

Bloomberg said, “Singapore moved swiftly to quell the rare public display of labour discord this week, reinforcing a decades-old focus on avoiding what the government calls “adversarial and confrontational” industrial relations.”

The Economist picked up on local media's reluctance to use the word "strike" and said, "... the Straits Times, a pro-government daily, termed it an “action”, “protest”, “episode” and “wage dispute”."

“After dozens of drivers stayed away from work for a second day, the front-page headline on November 28th was: ‘Govt moves against illegal strike’,” the Economist wrote.

Local mainstream media, including Channel NewsAsia and The Straits Times, also took pains to explain why the use of the word “strike” was avoided

Blogger mrbrown called the agencies out and said, “Maybe they must double confirm first. Maybe it’s not a “strike” but an “unhappy gathering”.

Syndicated content from Associated Press and Reuters were also picked up and republished on other foreign news agencies.

The last legal strike was in 1986, involving the Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Employees Union and Hydril Pte., and the most recent illegal one concerned airline pilots in 1980, Bloomberg reported.

Under Singapore law, strikes are illegal for workers in essential services, such as healthcare and public transport, unless they give employers 14 days’ of notice.

Related links:

4 China bus drivers charged for instigating strike
SMRT on dorm conditions: We could have done better
20 SMRT bus drivers 'assisting' police 
Bus driver community split over mass labour strike
SMRT bus drivers' strike illegal: Tan Chuan Jin