Drivers to get ex gratia pay before leaving

Chinese embassy officials visit the 29 awaiting repatriation; SMRT said to bear cost

The 29 SMRT bus drivers from China who will be repatriated will get ex gratia bonuses on a pro rated basis before they leave.

An SMRT spokesman said they will also be paid for yesterday and get all claims owed to them, if any.

The Chinese embassy here said last night that its officials visited the 29 yesterday to understand the situation and convey the drivers' demands to the authorities.

It added that the drivers will be successively sent back to China from today. It is understood that the cost of repatriation will be borne by SMRT.

The move capped a morning of activity when SMRT buses arrived at the dormitories to pick up the 29.

Plain-clothes police officers had begun arriving at both the Woodlands and Serangoon dormitories from 3am. About 10 officers were spotted at Serangoon, and another 20 or so at Woodlands.

At around 8.15am, three SMRT buses arrived at Woodlands and one entered the Serangoon dorm at 8.25am.

At Woodlands, 24 drivers boarded the buses while five did so at Serangoon. They had just a few belongings with them and all looked calm.

The buses departed after 9am for the Admiralty West Prison, each escorted by cars driven by the plain-clothes officers.

It is understood that the men were not under arrest, and that they had been told the night before that they were going to be interviewed by the authorities yesterday morning.

After arriving at Admiralty West Prison, the drivers were sternly warned by the police for participating in the strike.

The Controller of Work Passes then revoked their work permits, and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority started the process of repatriating them.

Sources said that SMRT staff bought winter clothing for the 29 drivers heading home. Staff also helped to pack their personal belongings at the dormitories and took them to the drivers.

The Sunday Times understands that the packing was witnessed by SMRT audit staff and by the drivers' dorm-mates whenever possible.

At a press conference yesterday afternoon, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin gave details on how police established varying levels of participation in the illegal strike last Monday and Tuesday.

Top of the list were the four men charged in court last Thursday with conspiring to instigate the other drivers to strike. He Jun Ling, 32, Gao Yue Qiang, 32, Liu Xiangying, 33, and Wang Xianjie, 39, are currently in remand.

Next was a fifth driver, who will be charged for "being a hostile and aggressive participant" in the strike.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said the Public Prosecutor obtained a summons yesterday for him to be charged under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.

The driver's details will be revealed when he is charged in court tomorrow.

Another group comprised the 29 who will be repatriated. Mr Tan said these were clearly "active participants" in the strike, even though some had medical certificates.

A statement from the ministries of Home Affairs and Manpower said these drivers who persisted in the strike were absent on either or both days without reason.

Finally, there were others who took part in the strike - estimated to number more than 150 - who were more passive, and will get a warning by the police.

Of this group, Mr Tan said a number indicated they were coerced or unclear about what would happen if they joined the strike. "We understand that some were also being threatened," he said.

Many who participated realised the severity of the incident and what they were getting themselves into only when the authorities came in to advise them, he said.

Upon learning what they did was wrong, many stepped back and did not continue, he added.

In contrast, the five who face charges and the 29 "clearly went beyond those boundaries" and were actively involved, he said.

SMRT last night reiterated that "valuable lessons" from the incident are being addressed by its management.

It said it needs to improve its "management, communication and engagement efforts to be more proactive, responsible and sensitive" to the needs of its drivers.

"We are determined to come out stronger from this episode," it said.

Additional reporting by Leonard Lim, Bryna Singh, Goh Shi Ting and Feng Zengkun