|A Chinese bus driver Gao Yueqiang leaves Subordinate Court building in Singapore, Dec. 6, 2012. Four Chinese bus drivers charged with instigating illegal strike were released on bail in Singapore on Thursday. (Xinhua/Hu Juanxin)
SINGAPORE, Dec. 6 (Xinhua) -- Four Chinese bus drivers charged with instigating illegal strike were released on bail in Singapore on Thursday.
The drivers told the judge that they wanted lawyers to represent them when they appeared briefly before the Subordinate Court in the morning.
Three of them, who face charge of instigating an illegal strike, were granted bail of 10,000 Singapore dollars (8,197 U.S. dollars) each, while He Junling, the other driver who faces an additional charge of inciting an illegal strike, was granted bail of 20,000 Singapore dollars (16,294 U.S. dollars).
The drivers were released on bail and left the Subordinate Court building in the afternoon.
They told the judge that they were not able to raise the money. It was not immediately clear who paid the bail for them but some of the staff of local humanitarian organizations said they would bail out the workers personally.
The case will be mentioned on Dec. 12.
A total of 171 Chinese bus drivers took medical leave on Nov. 26 in protest against inequitable pay rises by local public transport operator SMRT, and 88 of them stayed away from work on the following day.
Five drivers were soon arrested and charged, while 29 others had their work permits revoked and were deported to China. Bao Fengshan, one of the five drivers, was sentenced to six weeks in jail on Monday. He was not represented by a lawyer and pleaded guilty to the charge for his role in the rare strike.
If convicted, the four drivers will face a fine of up to 2,000 Singapore dollars (1,639 U.S. dollars), or a maximum imprisonment of 12 months, or both on each charge.
Singapore government has reiterated its policy of "zero tolerance for illegal strikes" and Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin has described the drivers' action as an illegal strike.
Industrial actions have been rare in Singapore over the past decades as the authorities put in place measures that allow consultations involving the workers, the employers and the government, while at the same time putting in place legal rules that make it as difficult as it can be to have a legal strike.
Under Singapore law, workers in essential services such as transport and public utilities must give their employer at least 14 days' advance notice of their intention to have a strike. The notice has to be signed by at least seven fellow workers involved in the strike or by at least seven union representatives of the workers. The notice then needs to be acknowledged and signed by the employer, after which, that notice needs to be put up in at least three conspicuous places where the workers are employed.
The case also led many to question the way SMRT handled the grievances of the workers and the dispute. The company has been asked to improve the way it manages labor relations.
In a separate incident, two Chinese workers climbed to the top of two 10-storey cranes to express their complaint at a construction site in the industrial district of Jurong on Thursday. They were escorted down by the police later in the afternoon.