Singapore to Deport or Charge Bus Drivers Over Walkout

Singapore will deport 29 SMRT Corp. bus drivers and is prosecuting five others in connection with the city’s first labor protest since the 1980s.

Those facing charges could be imprisoned for as long as a year for taking part in what was described as an “illegal strike,” according to a statement on the government’s website. Four were arrested Nov. 28 and Nov. 29 and have already been charged, while the fifth will be charged on Dec. 3.

“The strike was planned and premeditated,” according to the statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Manpower. “It disrupted our public transport which is an essential service, and posed a threat to public order.”

More than 170 bus drivers failed to report for duty on Nov. 26, while 88 halted work the following day, SMRT said. The company said the striking workers were from China, while the Singapore government didn’t identify their nationalities today.

The four drivers are charged with conspiring to instigate workers employed by SMRT Buses Ltd., according to charge sheets filed at the city’s Subordinate Court yesterday. Strikes in Singapore are illegal for workers in essential services unless their employers are given two weeks’ notice, according to the Manpower Ministry.

“We will continue to actively engage all service leaders at all levels to address their concerns holistically,” SMRT, Singapore’s biggest subway operator and one of its two main bus companies, said today in an e-mailed statement. SMRT calls its bus drivers service leaders.

Telephone calls to China’s Foreign Ministry went unanswered outside of normal business hours.

China earlier said it was “highly concerned” about the arrest of four of its citizens by the Singapore authorities for their role in the labor protest.

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