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Singapore jails 4 Chinese bus drivers for strike

Agencies/China Daily | Updated: 2013-02-26 10:10

Four Chinese bus drivers charged with instigating and inciting an illegal strike in Singapore in November were sentenced to six to seven weeks in jail on Monday.

All four pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiring to instigate an illegal strike, while one of the drivers, He Junling, pleaded guilty to an additional charge of inciting an illegal strike.

The judge said He was sentenced to seven weeks in jail for each of the two charges he faced, but noted that the sentences "will run concurrently, having regard to the fact that his two offences were part of the same transaction".

The four men were among 171 bus drivers from China who failed to report for duty on Nov 26 last year in protest of inequitable pay rises and allegedly discriminatory policies of their employer, SMRT, a local public transport operator. Eighty-eight of the drivers stayed away from work the next day.

A fifth driver, Bao Fengshan, pleaded guilty to participating in an illegal strike and was sentenced to six weeks in jail last year. Bao was not represented by a lawyer. Twenty-nine others were repatriated to China.

Judge See Kee Oon said after imposing the jail terms on Monday that "the sentence must be of sufficient duration to signal its deterrent intent" even though the strike "may have been motivated by a sense of grievance".

"This had the potential to severely affect the daily lives of all commuters who rely on public transport," the judge added.

The maximum punishment for staging an illegal strike in Singapore, which has tough laws against industrial unrest, is a jail term of up to a year as well as a S$2,000 ($1,640) fine.

Anyone convicted of a crime in Singapore can get a one-third reduction of their jail term for good behavior, but foreigners are normally deported immediately after serving their sentences.

Officials of SMRT admitted after the strike that the drivers had legitimate grievances, including bedbug-infested dormitories, but denied that the Chinese drivers were victims of pay discrimination.

Malaysian and Singaporean drivers are paid more by SMRT but are not hosted in dormitories.

Two of the drivers sentenced on Monday have accused Singapore police officers of assault while they were being held for questioning. Authorities have launched an inquiry into their accusations.

Singapore's last strike took place at a shipyard in 1986. Its strike-free environment has been a major attraction for multinational corporations.

The judge also said that one aggravating factor was the large-scale strike that was planned to put pressure on their employer, SMRT, with the clear knowledge that it would cause disruption to transport services.

However, the drivers have expressed their remorse by pleading guilty, he added.


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