Four ex-SMRT bus drivers have been jailed in Singapore for their part in last November’s strike. Wang Xianjie, Gao Yue Qiang and Liu Xiangying were sentenced to six weeks in prison, while He Junling was sentenced to seven weeks. On top of organising and participating in the strike, he had also posted on social media network Baidu encouraging others to join in.
All four had pleaded guilty in court. Choo Zheng Xi, lawyer for He Junling, presented a mitigation plea, saying, “It was never Jun Ling’s intention to startle or alarm the public, nor was it a calculated plan of his to unsettle labour relations in Singapore for personal gain. His actions came from a place of deep desperation and despair at his living conditions, discriminatory pay, and a lack of an outlet to express his grievances.”
It was reported that Judge See Kee Oon had described the strike has having the potential to “severely affect the daily lives of all commuters”, therefore requiring the sentences to be “of sufficient duration to signal its deterrent intent”.
The strike and subsequent events has been cause of much controversy in Singapore, where a significant strike has not been seen in over two decades, encouraging people to talk about labour relations, freedom of assembly, rights to protest, and even police brutality and the intimidation of journalists. Singaporeans have argued over whether strike action has any place in Singapore, and whether the bus drivers should have resorted to such action. Human rights groups have criticised the government’s reaction to the strike, demanding that the charges against the bus drivers be dropped.
In an interview with independent journalist Lynn Lee, He and Liu alleged that they had been threatened and beaten during interrogation. The allegations triggered an investigation by the Internal Affairs Office of the Singapore Police Force, during which Lee had her hard drive seized and computer and phone records examined.
With the men now sentenced to jail – which means that they will most likely be repatriated to China upon release – the issue may now seem to have been concluded. After the reports and commentaries are published, the story of the bus drivers and their ‘illegal strike’ will soon fade to back the of public consciousness. Perhaps we’ll hear something about the investigation into police abuse, or perhaps nothing will be said and we’ll simply forget about it like many of the other previous probes and investigations.
Hopefully, with Singaporeans themselves having resorted to collective action themselves recently to protest government policy, people will now look back on the strike and think more kindly of the bus drivers.