Feb. 28 – The cultural and work ethic differences between China and democratic Asia have been bought into sharp focus with the jailing in Singapore of four Chinese bus drivers and the deportation of a further 29.
The incident occurred after the drivers, hired from a mainland agency, decided to go on strike after learning of a salary differential between them and drivers doing the same job from Malaysia. The action resulted in disruption to Singapore’s bus routes making many commuters unable to get to work.
Although labor laws in China favor and support workers in disputes with their employers, strike action in Singapore is illegal.
The Singaporean bus company SMRT admitted that the Chinese drivers were paid less than those from other countries, but this was because they were also provided with accommodation. They did agree that some living conditions could be improved and stated they would make corrections to the dormitories.
“The sentence must be of sufficient duration to signal its deterrent intent,” said Judge See Kee Onn, who jailed the drivers for seven weeks. “This had the potential to severely affect the daily lives of all commuters who rely on public transport”.
The Chinese Embassy in Singapore issued a blunt statement saying that “Chinese workers must obey the laws of the country they are employed in”. The action was Singapore’s first strike in nearly 30 years.
After a slew of new labor laws that has bolstered their rights, workers in China have become increasingly vocal about poor labor conditions. In the past couple of years, disgruntled workers have increasingly been able to gain concessions from unfair employers through massive demonstrations. Labor strikes, once rare in China, are now becoming a commonplace tactic that is used to demand better pay and conditions, particularly from foreign investing companies.