Rights group chides Singapore over Chinese bus drivers

Thu Dec 6, 2012 3:14am EST
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By John O'Callaghan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch decried Singapore's prosecution of mainland Chinese bus drivers behind the first major strike in the wealthy city-state since 1986, calling on Thursday for the charges to be dropped and discrimination to be ended.

Four Chinese men, charged with inciting a two-day walkout by dozens of their colleagues last week, asked for lawyers on Thursday in a case that highlights tensions over immigration in Singapore and the treatment of foreign workers.

A fifth Chinese driver, who pleaded guilty and was not represented by a lawyer, was sentenced to six weeks in jail on Monday. Singapore, a tightly regulated financial center with no minimum wage, deported 29 others to China on Sunday.

"Singapore defies basic labor rights by criminalizing migrant workers for a work stoppage," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

"It then adds insult to injury by justifying nationality-based discrimination in pay and working conditions, and restricting foreign workers' rights to form or lead a union to do something about it."

The Ministry of Manpower did not respond to a request for comment.

The Chinese drivers staged their walkout over living conditions and disparities in pay with their Singaporean and Malaysian peers.

Workers in essential services in Singapore are barred from striking without giving 14 days' notice and the government deters any kind of labor unrest that might hurt investment.   Continued...

A labour union representative chants slogans while carrying a sign with a portrait of Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a protest outside the Singapore Consulate in Hong Kong December 5, 2012. The group demanded for the release of a Chinese immigrant bus driver being sentenced to jail in Singapore after a protest in late November. The sign reads, "Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Release striking bus driver! Withdraw charges! Stop deporting! Protect workers rights to protest!" REUTERS/Bobby Yip