Foreign Comments on Local Employment Issues do not Carry Weight

The recent event of a bunch of 171 SMRT PRC bus drivers going on strike interestingly caught the attention of international news agencies.  When I saw the news of the strike, the first thought that came to mind was… “oh please don’t turn violent and destroy the peace and harmony we have in Singapore.”  I didn’t think anyone outside of Singapore would pick up on the news and blow it up.

Employees being unhappy with pay and treatment happens all the time anywhere.  But I do not think that, generally speaking, Singapore has employers who abuse their employees big time.  Sure there are some ngiao (stingy) employers around.  But that is largely it.  For companies who violate employment laws, employees can approach the government for action to be taken and the govt has always been protective of employees in such circumstances.  I had some encounters as a HR personnel before.  We had encounters with staff who go to MOM… they normally “win” even when the company has already gone the extra mile to help the staff.  The company only wins the case if its a legal breach or integrity issue on the staff’s part.

Citing the SMRT incident, some of these foreign commentators (who are not HR practitioners) commented that Singapore lacked Human Rights (some strikers were arrested and others deported).  Some classified it as discrimination (PRCs have lower salaries although they are provided with lodging and transports which all other employees do not have).  Others couldn’t even get their facts right (they missed out the fact that PRCs were given lodging and transport whilst all other staff need to manage their own lodging and transport… and do these commentators know how expensive these are in Singapore?!?!?! Obviously not!!!).

The failure of the employer (SMRT) has caused our government to receive badgering from these commentators (who, due to lack of education, are badgering the wrong party).  The government is just executing law in a just manner.  The strike is illegal in Singapore whatever your reasons for it.  And I totally support what our government has been doing thus far.  Our fragile and tiny island has no room for hooliganism.

The employer should be dealt with separately.

I think the pay and benefits SMRT designed for their staff is pretty much the norm in Singapore… give and take a little of course.  There are so many possible causes of employees being unhappy.  Pay need not be the real reason… just an easy one.  It could be caused by insensitive communications… how the differences in salary packages were communicated to the staff population could have struck some nerves.  Or… it could be lack of a well publicised channel which staff could turn to for any grievances.  Or… it could be a lack of culture development programmes.  The PRCs obviously did not know or did not believe how serious their actions were because SMRT failed to assimilate them into the Singapore culture or Singapore employment laws.

To all those who think that the government is being too harsh, I hope that you will reconsider your stand and realise that it has to be this way.  Unlike large countries, we cannot give in to such behaviour as exhibited by these strikers.  A gathering of already-disgruntled people can cause further build up of unhappiness and tension that could result in violence and fragamentation in our society.  Do we really want this on our little island?  We must discourage such behaviour.  There are other ways to “make noise” and be heard which do not hurt others.

If the employer has not done their job well, they will have to bear the consequences at their end.  If the employees break the law, they have to bear the consequences of breaking the law.

The commentators should have been clear on this.

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