3 Dec 2012

Singapore: strike leader jailed

Singapore has jailed one Chinese bus driver for six weeks and deported 29 others for staging the country's first strike in 26 years. Bao Feng Shan, 38, pleaded guilty to his role in a walkout last week by 171 bus drivers recruited from China over pay and living conditions. The incident has thrown scrutiny on the city-state's policies on foreign, low-skilled labour. Beijing has said it is concerned about the arrest of its nationals.
Aside from Bao, four others are facing criminal charges under laws that prohibit workers from initiating, continuing or participating in illegal strikes. They are expected to make court appearances on Thursday, local media reported. The driver "pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment", a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Chambers was quoted as saying by the Agence-France Presse news agency.
The 29 other drivers who remain unidentified had their work permits revoked and were deported from Singapore on Sunday. Strikes are illegal in Singapore for workers in essential services, unless the employer is given 14 days notice. The strike, which involved drivers for state-controlled transport company SMRT, was the first major labour action in the city state since 1986.

Bao Feng Shan was not represented by a lawyer. He was charged under Section 9 (1) of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act. He could have faced a prison term of up to one year and/or a fine of up to $2,000. Deputy Public Prosecutor, Peggy Pao-Keerthi Pei Yu, had asked the Court for a six-week prison sentence for Bao, noting that he was "far from a mere passive participant" and had been uncooperative.

The dispute, though involving a relatively small number of workers, has had a massive impact. It has been picked up by news media around the world, because of the rarity of strikes in Singapore.
It's interesting to note that the Prosecutor in this case only demanded a six week sentence for Bao Feng Shan, even though a sentence for the 'offence' can be up to a year. It seems likely that – with one eye on the increasingly militant Chinese working class on whom they rely for a lot of their migrant labour – the authorities in Singapore felt it would be counterproductive.

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