SMRT bus drivers' strike: NTUC says it supports Government's action

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) says it supports the action taken by the Government regarding the illegal strike of the SMRT's bus drivers.

"It is important to send a clear signal to all workers that as a nation ruled by law, there are proper ways of dealing with issues and disagreement," it said in a statement.

"Any action that is illegal must and will be dealt with firmly, regardless of whether the workers are local or foreign. We have a system in place to deal with workplace issues and grievances, one that has been painstakingly built over the years and has served us well. This must continue."

A total of 102 drivers hired from China refused to go to work on Monday, citing unhappiness about pay and living conditions. Despite talks with SMRT management and agreeing to work the next day, 60 did not show up on Tuesday.

On Monday, various statements from SMRT and the authorities described the matter as a "dispute", "disagreement" and "wage dispute", but by the end of Tuesday, it was an "illegal strike".

At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin described it as such, and said the police are investigating.

He added that labelling was not a trivial matter. There was a need to investigate the facts first as this would have implications on the action to be taken.

The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act defines a strike as a group of workers employed under essential services making a concerted refusal to work. Essential service workers cannot go on strike unless they have given their employer 14 days' notice of their intention to strike. Public transport services are among the list of essential services covered. Those found guilty can be fined not more than $2,000 and/or a prison term of not more than a year.

NTUC said that "important lessons" can be drawn from the episode. Management must maintain an open line of communication with their workers especially those who are not union members, and workers must recognise that there is a right and proper way to air their grievances.