Chinese bus drivers strike in Singapore in rare labor protest

Riot police vehicles and officers were photographed around the home of Chinese bus drivers on strike in Singapore, where the last major labor protest was in 1986.

SINGAPORE — At least 100 Chinese bus drivers in Singapore refused to go to work Monday to protest against changes to their employment terms, media said, in a rare show of defiance in a city-state where industrial action is almost unheard of.

The drivers, employed by public transport operator SMRT Corp, were unhappy about having to switch to a six-day work-week with higher pay from a five-day week. The change meant less opportunity to earn overtime pay, the Chinese-language Lianhe Zaobao newspaper reported on its website.

Pictures published by Shin Min Daily News, another Chinese-language paper, showed drivers gathered on the grounds of a dormitory where they live, with policemen and vehicles belonging to riot police around the premises.

Strikes are rare in Singapore where authorities are quick to step in for fear such action could discourage investors. The last major strike was in 1986 by shipyard workers.

Lianhe Wanbao quoted a driver saying he now got about $1,100 a month, down from more than $1,636 a month when he could earn more by working on days off. The Chinese drivers were also unhappy about being paid less than drivers from Singapore and Malaysia, it said.

A spokesman for SMRT declined to comment, saying the company was drafting a statement. State broadcaster Channel NewsAsia quoted the firm saying that talks were being held with the drivers.

Singapore is tightly controlled business and financial center of 5.3 million people.

Labor unrest and ethnic differences are both sensitive issues on the prosperous tropical island which depends on foreign workers, many of them from China, to do many low-paid jobs.

Many Singapore people complain about the influx of immigrants and blame the newcomers for pushing down wages, pushing up costs and increasing congestion.

The government has, in response, raised the levies companies must pay to hire low-skilled workers from abroad as well as cut the proportion of foreigners that companies can hire.