Posted 2012/12/5

Singapore: Human Rights Defenders Messrs He Jun Ling, Gao Yue Qiang, Liu Xiangying and Wang Xian Jie Charged for Inciting Illegal Strike

On 29 November 2012, Chinese human rights defenders and bus drivers, Messrs He Jun Ling, Gao Yue Qiang, Liu Xiangying and Wang Xian Jie, all employed by the state-controlled public transport operator SMRT Ltd., were charged in court with 'inciting an illegal strike' among bus drivers; a strike which took place on 26 and 27 November 2012.

He Jun Ling is facing additional charges relating to a message he posted on a Chinese social networking website urging other drivers to join the strike. The human rights defenders protested against poor living conditions in the company dormitories and the fact Chinese bus drivers are reportedly paid less than their Malaysian and Singaporean counterparts for the same work, and are given smaller pay raises.

The four defenders were among 20 bus drivers called in for questioning on 28 November. The next day, they were charged with inciting an illegal strike under Section 10(a) of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (Chapter 67), which states that any person who instigates or incites others to take part in an illegal strike or lock-out is guilty of an offence, and could be sentenced to a fine of 2,000 Singapore dollars (approx. 1,250 EUR), a 12-month prison sentence, or both. None of the four are entitled to be released on bail and they remain in custody. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 10am on 6 December 2012.

On 25 November 2012, He Jun Ling and Gao Yue Qiang called a meeting at the Woodlands dormitories to announce their plans for a strike the following two days, urging their colleagues to participate. He Jun Ling put up a post in Chinese on the social networking website the same evening, in which he urged all Chinese bus drivers in Singapore to take part. The post, entitled “The insults and humiliation suffered by Singapore drivers”, called for drivers to “go on MC [medical leave]” on 26 and 27 November, saying that “we depend on ourselves for our dignity and our interests”, and adding that if enough drivers refused to work, the authorities would be forced to listen and examine the transport operator SMRT more closely.

171 bus drivers took part in the protest on 26 November, with 88 also on strike the following day. This is a substantial part of the 450 Chinese nationals who are employed by SMRT, out of a total of 2,000 bus drivers employed with the company.

Under the Singaporean Criminal Law, strikes by employees in 'essential services', which include public transport, are illegal unless given with a minimum of 14 days' notice followed by a drawn-out approval procedure. In practice, legislation puts up considerable hurdles for proposed industrial action, making strikes a rare occurrence. This strike was the first to take place in Singapore since 1986.

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