If nothing else, the recent SMRT PRC bus drivers' illegal strike has jerked the PAP leadership out of their complacency with respect to Singapore's perpetual industrial harmony. The government minister concerned with the handling of the strike is trying to put up a brave front that the government had effectively dealt with the strikers with no concomitant repercussions.
The illegal strike has unquestionably caused alarm in the normally tranquil mind of the public that an illegal strike could have happened in the PAP much-vaunted paradise of industrial harmony that is Singapore. Many wondered why the government could not have described it as an illegal strike at the outset and much effort is now made to dispel this so-called misconception by a laboured explanation it had to be circumspect in examining the facts before calling it an illegal strike. Whether this is convincing is probably considered not important by the government. Is there any precedent of such circumspection in the past, one may ask?
The question uppermost in the mind of the public is how the PAP Government could have been caught with its pants down by this illegal strike. Was there no premonition of the PRC bus drivers' grievances that could have alerted the authorities of this impending strike action? There is a Chinese saying: The ice hardened to three feet is not the result of just one day of cold (冰凍三尺，非一日之寒). It means that the PRC bus drivers' grievances had been festering for quite some time. The workers had written to the SMRT management but drew no response. They had also written to the NTUC secretary-general Lim Swee Say for help but apparently their appeal fell on deal ears; could be because they were non-unionised workers.
The strike was obviously not carried out on the spur of the moment and it became illegal because the workers did not give fourteen days' notice , as required under the law for workers of essential services. They were clearly ignorant of the law but that was no excuse as far as the PAP Government was concerned. The fallout from this illegal strike could be considerable depending on how one looks at it. That it has caused an adverse effect on the reputation of industrial harmony of the PAP Government is not in dispute. The Government cannot afford to have another strike of this nature without affecting investors' confidence. The last strike occurred twenty six years ago.
The illegal strike has caused the influential Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) to be "distressed and concerned". The SNEF saw it necessary to issue an advisory to its members comprising 20,000 companies to review procedures for dealing with workers' grievances, whether unforseen or otherwise, so as not to be caught in an untenable strike situation. The Government could not be unaware that this illegal strike could provide an unconscious stimulus to the large colony of foreign workers that they could, where they consider appropriate, seek a more equitable return for their labour. There is a danger that the Government's industrial harmony dream may disintegrate, hence the Government's exhortations to employers to address workers' grievances before they deteriorate The motto should ideally be "industrial peace with justice".