SMRT's PRC drivers' strike and the deafening silence of the PAP Government

Over 100 drivers from the People's Republic of China (PRC) have gone on strike to protest against the wage structure of SMRT, which unfairly discriminates between drivers of different nationalities. It has now been revealed that drivers from PRC make up 22 percent of SMRT's pool of drivers - which is not an insignificant number.

Considering the fact the the PAP Government has sanctioned a $1.1 billion package to public transport operators to provide new bus services and improve existing ones, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated plans to boost bus capacity by about 800 buses over the next five years to reduce crowding and waiting times, the silence of the Cabinet Ministers on this strike by the drivers recruited from PRC is deafening.

The PAP members who have spoken up on the issue, have not brought any clarity to the issue either. MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC and Chairman of Migrant Workers Centre (MWC), Yeo Guat Kwang for example reportedly said that the drivers who went on strike could have approached the Ministry of Manpower's Foreign Workers unit or MWC to address their grievances instead of 'taking matters into their own hands'. Are the drivers aware that such avenues are available? Considering the fact that this is not the first strike by foreign workers this year, how much effort has MOM, MWC or SMRT put in highlighting these avenues to the foreign workers?

Member of Parliament Zainal Sapari, NTUC director of the Unit for Contract and Casual Workers (UCCW), too criticised the workers for not adhering proper procedures and acting without the knowledge of the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU). But NTWU released a statement later which said that it does not have the legal mandate to represent the PRC bus workers of SMRT, as they are not union members.

To muddy the waters further, the mainstream newspaper Today tweeted earlier today that 'unconfirmed reports say that 60 SMRT drivers did not show up this morning and will be arrested today', only for a spokesperson from SMRT to come out and say, “We are not looking at arresting people. We are looking at finding an amicable solution".The spokesperson further went on to reportedly say that the strike is a sit-in and not a law and order problem, and that police are only on standby. If it is only a sit-in, and if they were only 'sitting-in' in their own dormitory, where were the Police Tactical Unit called in yesterday? Who called them in?

This strike by the PRC drivers of SMRT may have wider implications. For example, in May this year, some Singapore drivers of SMRT aired their grievances about wages and working hours as well. The Union then tasked Ong Ye Kung, then-Deputy Secretary General of NTUC to address the grievances. Ong Ye Kun was also an independent director of SMRT’s board at that time. The drivers then were reportedly 'particularly angry with Ong for “short selling” them and spoke irately about his conflict of interests'. Has that issue been resolved? How much effort did NTWU put in to address the Singapore drivers' grievances about wages and working hours?

The table above (link: which compares the salaries of bus drivers from around the world, says that the bus drivers in Singapore are one of the worst paid, when you compare their wages with the bus drivers from other first world countries.

The strike by SMRT's PRC drivers tells us that we cannot be overly reliant on foreigners for our essential services. We have to attract more Singaporean drivers to drive our buses, and for that they must be offered a competitive salary, and their working hours has got to be structured in such a way that they too can enjoy work-life balance.

There must be structural reforms to ensure that a worker get's an honest day's pay for an honest day's work; for that we must review the existing labour laws and consider enacting legislation for minimum wages.

It's also not helpful that the Minister for Manpower, and the Minster for Transport has kept silent on the strike by SMRT's PRC drivers. They should address the concerns and anxiety of Singaporeans on this matter.


UPDATE: The Ministry of Manpower issued a statement after I had written this post describing the strike as an 'iilegal' one, adding that 'by taking matters into their own hands the drivers have clearly crossed the line.'

'These workers have disrupted public transport services and Singapore’s industrial harmony. The Government views these disruptions very seriously. We have zero tolerance for such unlawful action because disrupted essential services not only affect the workers in the industry, but also affect the daily life of all in the community.' MOM said


Gary said…
If some country were to declare war on Singapore can we depend on the ministars if they are at sixes and sevens over a calmly execute sit down refusal to report for duty by the Chinese drivers?

The Singapore cabinet is a disgrace.