Wage dispute? Protest? Or strike?

Was the SMRT bus driver episode a "strike"? Netizens seemed to think so, but the word "strike" was missing in official statements on the dispute.

SMRT said the 102 drivers from China "did not show up for work".

The Ministry of Manpower said it was told about the "SMRT situation" and that it takes "the workers' actions very seriously".

It added: "Workers are advised to speak to their HR and management to discuss and resolve any employment-related issues amicably, rather than take matters into their own hands."

The National Transport Workers' Union called it a "dispute", and urged workers and management to "resolve their disagreement".

The police said that officers called to the scene established the matter to be "a wage dispute between a group of foreign workers and their employer".

Wire stories on the dispute also described it variously as a "labour dispute" (Bloomberg News), "a rare case of labour mass action" (Agence France-Presse) and "rare labour protest" (Reuters).

Labour MPs did not want to be drawn into the debate, saying they did not have the full facts.

At least two sections of Singapore's laws make reference to strikes.

The Trade Disputes Act defines strikes as "the cessation of work by a body of persons employed in any trade or industry acting in combination, or a concerted refusal... to continue to work or to accept employment". It lays out the regulations for strikes or industrial action organised legally by unions. Any person found guilty can be fined up to $2,000 and/or jailed up to six months.

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 and air 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.