Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An illegal strike or "wage dispute"?

The PAP Government was probably caught with its pants down when 171 (originally quoted as 102) PRC bus drivers of SMRT suddenly refused en masse to turn up for work on Monday 25 November because they were unhappy with their wages.The Government demurred in calling it an  illegal strike immediately obviously because the drivers involved are from China, a country with which the PAP leaders are ingratiating themselves and a country not to be trifled with because of its greatness. The irony is that if the drivers involved were Singaporeans, the Government would not have batted an eyelid in using the knuckleduster and arresting them for illegal strike. So when the Ministry of Manpower was told about the "SMRT situation", it avoided branding it an illegal strike and merely said that it takes "the workers' actions very seriously".

The intrepid Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin probably could not find peace of mind thniking hard how to present the drivers' action as an illegal strike without repercussions, especially from China. So it was not surprising that he finally summoned up enough courage, after no doubt consultation with his political master the prime minister, to describe the drivers' action as an illegal strike. The Government said that the drivers would be dealt with, if found guilty. It is not hard to see that the Acting Minister's explanation of not calling the drivers' action at the outset as illegal strike lacks conviction.

The China factor is undoubtedly the most important consideration in the PAP Government's deliberations in how to handle this illegal strike by PRC drivers .Netizens in China are out in full force accusing the Singapore Government of discriminating against PRC workers. And China has asked Singapore to safeguard the rights and interests of  Chinese workers according to local laws. The Chinese mainstream media are probably holding back comments waiting for a cue from the Chinese Government. So that should be sufficient premonition for the PAP Government to take note on how to deal with the PRC drivers without incurring the wrath of Great China.

Anybody can see that PAP leaders hold China in great awe and are leaning backwards to please it. In fact, very few countries in the world do not view China's greatness with awe, even the Americans. Singapore has substantial investments in China and it is in Singapore's interest not to disturb the equilibrium. China is known to be magnanimous at times but it is also not unknown to take umbrage at the slightest agitation. So PAP Government will have the unenviable task of handling this PRC drivers' illegal strike gingerly so as not to give the slightest offence to its benefactor, both politically and economically.

Let's examine what the PAP Government can or will probably do. Imprisonment is out of the question but Singapore workers in similar circumstances may not escape imprisonment. Dismissal and expulsion from Singapore are also taboo as this is likely to incur the ire of China. So the only option left is a fine, if found guilty. Perhaps a nominal fine, a slap on the wrist, to indicate closure of an unpalatable episode and, more importantly, to pacify China.


Gary said...

The PAP govt objects strenuously to outsiders making overt unfriendly gestures about its internal affairs. It recently even sent a priest back to his home in Australia for 'interfering' with local politics. But in the case of these striking Chinese nationals drivers, the govt actually 'voluntarily' and on its on volition behaves in a manner which says clearly and loudly that it has allowed the political influence of the Chinese Big Brother to circumscribe its freedom to apply the law on the striking drivers. And the Chinese Embassy here actually sent the govt a note to remind it to treat the drivers in a proper manner under the law. If it was someone else or another country the MFA would have screamed 'gross interference' in Singapore's internal affairs and law and taken umbrage at the suggestion that there is a 'crisis' of confidence regarding how the drivers would be dealt with under the law.

Anonymous said...

Simple solutions:
(1) Recruit more Singaporeans and pay them better. The money will circulate back locally. (2) Reduce the % of expatriate operators holding critical positions in all sensitive public services.