Saturday 1 December 2012

Four SMRT bus drivers charged over strike

One of the four is also charged over inciting workers with Web post
By Maria Almenoar and Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2012

FOUR SMRT bus drivers from China were yesterday charged with instigating this week's illegal strike, resulting in bus services being affected on Monday and Tuesday.

He Jun Ling, 32, Gao Yue Qiang, 32, Liu Xiangying, 33, and Wang Xianjie, 39, appeared in the Subordinate Court at 6.15pm.

They looked ahead without expression as a translator read out the charges to them. It is believed they had come from the Police Cantonment Complex where they had been interrogated.

The drivers will be held in remand for a week for further investigations and will appear in court again on Dec 6.

Two Chinese embassy officials observed the proceedings but refused to comment.

The drivers were charged under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act which states that anyone who instigates and incites others to take part in a strike or lock-out shall be guilty of an offence. The Act covers strikes of workers from essential services, including public transport.

If found guilty, the four face a fine of up to $2,000, a jail term of up to a year and/or both.

They are also being charged under Section 109 of the Penal Code for abetting the instigation offence.

In addition, He faces another charge of inciting workers to strike in relation to a statement he posted on Chinese website Baidu.

The post, which went up between 10am and noon on Sunday, called on "rational and hot-blooded fellow workers" to "take action... let's go on MC together" on Monday and Tuesday.

On Tuesday, He - from Henan province - identified himself as a spokesman for the drivers and spoke to reporters at the Woodlands dormitory where he stayed.

In what was Singapore's first strike since 1986, 171 bus drivers from China refused to go to work on Monday in protest against what they saw as low wages compared to Malaysian drivers', and poor living conditions. On Tuesday, 88 did not turn up.

Asked if more arrests would be made, a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Chambers said it depends on police investigations.

Twenty drivers have been called in for questioning since Wednesday.

The Straits Times understands that some drivers may be deported and SMRT may also suspend drivers from duty, pending its internal investigation. If they are found to have breached company rules, their contracts will be terminated.

Minister of State for Manpower Amy Khor last night said she "welcomed the swift action of the police" and urged SMRT to review its human resource policies.

Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo and Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport chairman Cedric Foo both said it was "unfortunate" some drivers have been charged, but said laws have to be applied consistently and universally.

Said Mr Foo: "We don't want to go the way of some countries, where essential services are being held while workers make unreasonable demands. In the end, society pays the price."

Xinhua reported the Chinese Ministry of Commerce as calling for the legal rights and interests of Chinese nationals working overseas to be protected.

Driver accused of incitement through post on Baidu website
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2012

HE JUN Ling, 32, was one of four SMRT bus drivers from China charged in court yesterday for engaging in a conspiracy to instigate drivers to go on strike.

He faced a second charge of inciting drivers to take part in a strike by making a post on the Chinese Baidu website.

It was titled "The insults and humiliations suffered by Singapore drivers (SMRT) (Where is the dignity of the People's Republic of China bus drivers)". He used the pseudonym "free world go".

The post is about 10 paragraphs long. Among other things, he asked his compatriots if they felt that their dignity had been trampled on.

He complained about how Chinese and Malaysian drivers have different pay. He said SMRT's management either did not know about requests made by the Chinese drivers or chose to ignore them as it could easily hire other drivers from China.

Court papers cited the statements below (translated):

a) "But why don't we think of it the other way round, if a few hundred Chinese nationals take the lead, I am afraid the management of SMRT will be fired instead, not that we do not know the traffic situation in Singapore, a few hundred bus drivers do not report for work for a few days, there will be public outcry in Singapore, Lianhe Zaobao, My Paper and the English papers will all wait on us, trying to find out the reason(s) for the action. Land Transport Authority will have to start questioning SMRT."

b) "Rational and hot-blooded fellow workers have to take action! Let's go on MC together tomorrow 26, Monday and 27, Tuesday. We have to depend on ourselves for our dignity and interest, MC (whether paid or not paid) is nothing compared to your own interest, just tens of dollars isn't? When it comes to fighting for our dignity it is far more important than tens of dollars. Please relay the message to as many as possible, not afraid of traitor(s), Monday morning at the entrance to hostels at Ang Mo Kio and Woodlands please inform those who are not aware, insist not to board the company transport. Boycott and despise those who are not taking any action, they will suffer guilty conscience. It concerns the interest of everybody, everyone should take part."

Tackle workers' concerns fast: MOM
By Maria Almenoar and Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2012

CONCERNS raised by bus operator SMRT's workers must be treated as a priority and addressed quickly, stressed the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.

It emphasised that SMRT, an essential service provider, must use lessons identified from this week's strike to "thoroughly review and improve its HR and management practices".

The operator must ensure lines of communication are kept open and that it has proper grievance- handling procedures.

SMRT also has to work more closely with the union to tackle outstanding issues, said MOM. It added that its labour relations officers have been in close contact with SMRT's human resource department and senior management since Monday, when 171 bus drivers from China went on strike.

The ministry also said it has inspected the dormitories where the drivers are housed. They had complained of poor conditions.

The ministry said the rooms were not overcrowded but noted a bedbug problem in some rooms.

It also said that general housekeeping conditions of the drivers' rooms were below par compared to other rooms in the dormitories.

One common grouse of drivers was that those on different shifts are grouped together, making it difficult for them to get a good rest, MOM said.

Posting on Facebook last night, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said: "Even as we take a firm position on this, it is important that we remain circumspect and not generalise unfairly."

Many drivers, local or foreign, continue to carry out their responsibilities diligently, he wrote.

Even as we take a firm position on this, it is important that we remain circumspect and not generalize unfairly. Many...
Posted by Tan Chuan-Jin on Thursday, November 29, 2012

In a separate statement, SMRT spelt out the measures it is taking to improve its drivers' well-being. Its management and staff, including executive vice-president for commercial and roads Teo Chew Hoon, met more than 130 drivers from China at two townhall sessions yesterday afternoon.

Addressing concerns raised on living conditions at dormitories in Woodlands, Serangoon and Tampines, SMRT said it is making repairs to defects and fittings. It has arranged for fumigation for rooms with bedbug complaints.

SMRT will arrange alternative accommodation for drivers at HDB flats or apartments islandwide when dorm leases expire from early next year. It noted a large number of China drivers wanted to move out of the dorms.

A 24-hour hotline and a team of liaison officers have been set up for drivers from China to get help or provide feedback on work and living conditions, said SMRT.

It is reviewing pay concerns raised and will share its decision with the China drivers next week.

Transient Workers Count Too president Russell Heng said the issue of how long workers had to wait for their grievances to be addressed was a key concern.

SMRT CEO visits bus drivers at Serangoon dorm

TODAY, 30 Nov 2012

SMRT have issued the following statement after CEO Desmond Kuek visited the Serangoon dormitory today:

As a continuation of the engagement of the PRC Service Leaders (SLs), SMRT President & CEO Mr Desmond Kuek visited the workers' dormitory at Serangoon and spoke to the SLs present at the dormitory to understand at first hand their concerns and appreciate their current living conditions. He noted that the conditions in the dormitories could certainly be better, and said that the feedback had been given to the dormitory operators to step up the living conditions of the SLs. Fumigation works to tackle complaints of bedbugs in some dormitory rooms was done last month, and again this week. Alternative housing arrangements will be made earlier if conditions do not improve.

Earlier this morning, Mr Kuek was also at Ang Mo Kio bus depot to monitor the situation of bus operations and to ensure that all bus services continue to be maintained and run normally.

In response to the news that four of the SLs from China had been arrested by Police and have been charged in Court yesterday for their alleged roles in the illegal strike, Mr Kuek said that SMRT is supporting the Police in its ongoing investigations, and is also managing the morale of the other SLs who are understandably anxious about the outcome. He reiterated that SMRT took a serious view of the illegal actions by those who participated in the strikes on Monday and Tuesday, and said that they should have used the proper channels to raise their concerns and feedback.

Mr Kuek said: "There are open channels of communications with all our SLs, such as regular townhall sessions and staff dialogues. It is unfortunate that this incident has happened. It shows that more needs to be done by Management to proactively manage and engage our SLs. Despite this tumultuous period however, the SLs I met this afternoon assured me that they will continue to be devoted to their duties and will continue to serve our passengers by working hard on the roads each day. I thanked them for their positive attitude, and have reassured them that we value their service and will improve our management, communication and engagement efforts to be more responsive and sensitive to their needs." A new 24-hour telephone hotline and an email helpdesk have been set up so that feedback can be given directly and assistance rendered, in addition to the dedicated management liaison team to look into the PRC SL issues. The idea of nominating Chinese SLs representatives to facilitate effective communication in each of the dormitories will also be implemented.

SMRT's union culture 'not as evident'
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2012

A CULTURE of joining unions is not as evident in SMRT as in SBS Transit, the deputy executive secretary of the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU), Mr Desmond Choo, said yesterday.

That could have been one contributing factor in the illegal strike of 171 China-born SMRT bus drivers earlier this week.

The NTUC said on Wednesday that "the majority of People's Republic of China (PRC) bus drivers at SBS Transit are union members, whereas the majority of foreign drivers in SMRT have not joined the union."

Union sources said only 10 per cent of SMRT's China-born drivers are union members.

Asked about the contrast, Mr Choo said: "The culture of joining the union must be there, for example in SBS Transit, everyone comes and says, let's join. The fellow workers will also encourage you to join.

"That might not be evident on the other side. Of course, we would also encourage management to get all their workers from all nationalities to join the union, from SMRT."

Mr Choo, who helped to mediate the strike, spoke to The Straits Times together with Migrant Workers Centre (MWC) chairman Yeo Guat Kwang.

Both gave other reasons for foreign workers not joining unions. These include their lack of awareness of the benefits. Some also work for only a short period of time here on a contract basis and see no point in joining a union.

Another reason is their belief that the Manpower Ministry and organisations such as MWC can adequately help them. Still others have the impression that foreigners are not allowed to join Singapore unions, or were told by their employment agents not to do so.

Mr Choo said unionists usually work with a company's human resource unit to promote unionisation. They also visit workplaces to explain the benefits of unionisation to workers. SMRT has allowed unionists to visit bus depots to talk to its workers. "But of course, I think having the good culture of being able to explain the benefits and engaging them, I think those could be enhanced."

The NTWU has 19,000 members, of whom a quarter are foreigners. Of the 1.16 million foreign workers here, only 12 per cent or 140,000 are unionised. By contrast, about 27 per cent or 560,000 of 2.08 million local workers are union members.

The NTWU will do more to explain the benefits of unionisation to foreigners. Mr Yeo added that MWC will step up efforts to educate them on labour laws.

MWC will set up two more centres soon, adding to its existing Rangoon Road headquarters, and is looking into setting up a dormitory operators' association. It expects many operators to agree to voluntary guidelines. More details will be announced next month.

Foreign drivers should see 'benefit of joining union'
NTUC's Cham also urges SMRT management to recognise positive role the union can play
by Teo Xuanwei, TODAY, 30 Nov 2012

Most of SMRT's foreign drivers are not union members, while the majority of SBS Transit's roughly 580 China-born drivers are, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Assistant Secretary-General Cham Hui Fong has revealed.

She said this in a press statement yesterday evening, as she urged SMRT's management to "recognise the positive role the union can play", noting that NTUC has 125,000 foreign worker members. Said Ms Cham: "On their part, foreign drivers should see the benefit of joining the union so that the union can be of assistance to them."

Her comments come as observers questioned whether the illegal strikes staged by 171 SMRT bus drivers on Monday and Tuesday could have been averted had the China workers been able to negotiate with their employers through the union over their grievances - inequitable pay, as well as poor work and living conditions.

The high-profile illegal strikes - the Republic's last sit-in, albeit a legal one, happened 26 years ago - involving employees in an "essential service" also drew concerns over Singapore's reliance on imported labour in some sectors.

Members of Parliament (MPs) and economists TODAY spoke to highlighted the need for unions to step up their engagement efforts towards foreign workers here, especially those working in critical sectors like healthcare and utilities. Given that Singapore would probably "require even more foreign workers in many areas" in future, given our ageing population, MP Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) said: "If unions reach out to them, at least when there are problems, things can be discussed and worked out better."

MP Inderjit Singh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) added: "We cannot assume that foreign workers will know or follow our rules and regulations. They probably will be more likely to do what they are used to in their own country, so there must be serious education, particularly in labour relations here."

While he stressed his support for the Government's firm actions in sending out a signal, Mr Singh wondered if it was time to consider setting local-foreign worker ratios in major public services sectors like utilities, but he did not go into specifics.

Concurring, Associate Professor Hui Weng Tat from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy added: "Given the importance and potential impact of essential services on the economy, there may be a need to revisit the extent of dependence on foreign workers for effective functioning of these sectors." Salary and work conditions, he noted, must be reviewed such that more Singaporeans will take up jobs in these sectors.

Agreeing, CIMB regional economist Song Seng Wun said businesses have been able to "make use of foreign workers to keep wages at the lower levels down", he said.

The strikes showed that the bottomline is that employers must pay "fair wages" to all workers because any service disruptions would hurt the Republic's reputation as an efficient economy, he added.

Meanwhile, National Solidarity Party secretary-general Hazel Poa said in a press statement that the SMRT drivers involved had broken the law, but felt Singapore's tripartite model "does not provide confidence to aggrieved workers that their rights and interest would be protected".

"We need a union that is independent, and also seen to be independent, from the Government," she said. 

SMRT holds first townhall with China drivers
TODAY, 29 Nov 2012

SMRT has issued the following statement after management met with bus drivers from China at a townhall session today:

SMRT Management and staff met up with more than 130 of our Service Leaders (SLs) from China at two townhall sessions held this afternoon.

At the sessions, SMRT's Executive Vice President for Commercial and Roads Ms Teo Chew Hoon shared with our SLs from China various measures that are being implemented and plans to improve their well-being. On concerns raised regarding the SLs' living conditions at the dormitories (Woodlands, Serangoon and Tampines), immediate measures such as repairs to defects and remedial works on broken fittings are currently being made to affected rooms. Fumigation has been arranged to address complaints of bed bugs in some of the rooms.

SMRT will continue to work closely with the dormitory operators to ensure that the dormitories of our SLs are kept in good condition.

As a large number of our SLs from China have expressed their desire to move out from the dormitories, we will also be arranging alternative accommodation for them at various HDB flats/apartments located island-wide when the leases of their dormitories expire from early 2013.

To improve communications with our SLs from China, we have set up a 24-hour hotline and a team of liaison officers which they can call and approach if they have any queries or feedback pertaining to their work, living conditions, or even if they require assistance in any other matters.

SMRT is in the process of reviewing the concerns raised regarding the wages of our SLs from China following the discussion on 26 November and will share our decision with them next week.

Ms Teo Chew Hoon thanked all our SLs for their hard work on the roads each day and for their cooperation in continuing to work hard despite what has happened in the past three-days. Ms Teo also reiterated that SMRT continues to value SLs who put their best into their duties, and reassured that the lines of communication with them remains open, and that the company will continue to look into their concerns and welfare.

We have been informed by the Police this afternoon that four of our SLs from China have been arrested and charged in Court for their roles in the illegal strike.

SMRT will continue to ensure that our bus services continue to operate normally and have been mobilising our resources accordingly. There are also 45 bus drivers from SBS Transit and private operators on standby ready to be deployed to assist us.

SMRT and our SLs will continue to cooperate with the authorities and render all assistance to their on-going investigations.

Pay difference due to lodging and hiring costs
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2012

FOREIGN workers tend to earn less than Singaporeans and Malaysians in the same industry due to recruitment and lodging costs involved, employers said yesterday.

To maintain industrial harmony, the reasons for the pay differences must be explained clearly to the foreigners, they added.

Wage differentiation was the main reason behind the illegal strike of China-sourced SMRT bus drivers earlier this week.

They were unhappy that Malaysians received bigger pay increments and higher pay, although they all performed the same job.

Most employers interviewed said the Chinese drivers should not be comparing their pay with Malaysians.

Malaysians are considered a "traditional" source of foreign workers, unlike "non-traditional" sources from countries such as India and China.

Among other things, employers of Malaysian workers do not have to post a $5,000 security bond to employ them here.

Foreign workers cannot compare their wages with Singaporean counterparts because employers bear different costs for Singaporeans, such as contributions to the Central Provident Fund.

Mr Milton Ng, president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, said the cost of housing a worker in a dormitory has risen from about $200 two to three years ago to today's $300 or so.

Worker levies imposed by the Government have also increased.

"I cannot increase the basic salaries of these workers on top of the other things I have to pay for, without passing the extra costs to my clients," said Mr Ng, a director at Ramky Cleantech Services.

"Something's got to give, otherwise I will end up pricing myself out of the competition."

Nightspot operator Dennis Foo, chief executive of St James Power Station, said "salary alone does not define the total remuneration" as one must consider factors such as accommodation, utilities and transport.

Among his service staff, Singaporeans and Malaysians earn about $100 more than the Chinese nationals in basic pay. But foreigners can take home a larger sum through tips and bar sales.

"This must be clearly communicated from the outset, so they don't end up thinking or feeling shortchanged," he said.

A veteran manufacturer who has businesses in Singapore, Malaysia and China said foreign workers must also manage their expectations. "They must understand that in Singapore, they can earn up to three times more than what they can get doing the same job in their home countries... so they are better off working here," he said.

"Unlike the Malaysians and Singaporeans, their expenses are much lower because they do not have to pay for the high cost of housing and transportation."

According to The Straits Times China bureau, online recruitment advertisements show that bus drivers in Beijing earn basic starting monthly wages of about 3,500 yuan (S$690). With overtime, pay can hit 5,000 yuan. Those in central Jiangxi province get about 2,200 yuan in monthly basic pay.

Unhappiness may be over SBS comparisons
By Maria Almenoar, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2012

THE SMRT bus drivers who went on strike on Monday and Tuesday had two main grouses: pay and living conditions.

The Chinese nationals took issue with their pay being less than that of Malaysian bus drivers in the same company.

SMRT said yesterday its bus drivers from China get $1,075 a month, while those from Malaysia get $1,400 - a difference of $325.

The Chinese workers are housed by the company and dormitory fees come up to $275 monthly for each worker.

Malaysian drivers do not need lodging as they make the daily commute across the Causeway.

The pay differentiation ultimately comes down to $50.

Labour experts said that while entry-level SMRT drivers from China were not far off in terms of the wages of their Malaysian peers, it was the total package and experience they reacted to.

While monthly wages are almost similar, taking into account accommodation, the Chinese drivers' contract terms mean they do not get a bonus or special increments.

They get a month's salary and an ex-gratia payout of another month if they complete their two-year contract.

Some of the unhappiness, labour experts said, was likely to have stemmed from their comparisons with drivers from rival company SBS Transit, who have preferred living conditions.

SBS houses its Chinese nationals in rented Housing Board flats with two to three to a room. This is to let the workers integrate with the community and give them easy access to amenities.

As for SMRT drivers, they are housed in dormitories in Woodlands and Serangoon.

They have claimed that their dormitory rooms are overcrowded with 10 to 12 workers sleeping in bunk beds. Some of the beds are infested with bedbugs, they said.

Drivers from different shifts are also housed together, making it difficult for them to get proper rest as colleagues come and go.

The Chinese drivers said the dormitories, which house about 400 units, are noisy with dozens of men sharing communal facilities like kitchens and toilets.

They said it is also difficult to communicate with foreign workers of other nationalities there.

Transient Workers Count Too vice-president Noorashikin Abdul Rahman said: "They think they are paid very little and worse still, they are living under bad conditions.

"They would have put up with bad living conditions if they could get better returns. But it is now the breaking point. It's not so much just a $55 difference but it is all the problems compounded."

The Straits Times understands that the entry-level pay of a bus driver from China at SBS is slightly lower than SMRT's, at $1,025. Its Malaysian drivers get an entry-level pay of $1,300.
The market rate for the rental of an HDB flat is about $340 a person per month.

Do more for workers, say opposition parties
The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2012

OPPOSITION parties have weighed in on the strike by SMRT bus drivers, calling for more to be done to protect workers.

They also criticised the Government for its labour and wage policies, and called on it to improve relations between employers and employees.

Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, chairman of the Singapore People's Party, said Singapore had to address "new sentiments" in industrial relations, and called for labour laws to be relooked.

She also urged the Government to look at reducing what she called an over-dependence on low-wage foreign workers across all sectors.

"By ensuring more decent wages for workers, jobs such as driving buses can then be filled by less disgruntled workers who can perform better, regardless of which country they are from."

The Singapore Democratic Party took a harder line, highlighting the rising wage gap and calling for wage levels to be boosted by introducing a minimum wage.

The National Solidarity Party, meanwhile, focused on the "vulnerability" of public transport operators, and said there should be more private operators. It also stressed that foreign workers should not be mistreated.

Wrong to go on strike, say S'poreans
By Walter Sim and Ian Poh, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2012

THE bus drivers should not have gone on strike as it could have repercussions on an essential public service - but Singaporeans are still empathetic towards their plight, a survey found yesterday.

A straw poll of 30 people by The Straits Times revealed that many believed it was a job Singaporeans would not do.

However, with better communication between management and employees, the problem could have been avoided.

Said Mr Ong Wey Shi, 29, who is self-employed: "There's always room for negotiation in a lawful manner. What they did is tantamount to going Awol (absent without official leave).

"If they were Singaporean, they would probably have been dismissed."

Ms Yeo Puay Lin, 39, an associate director at a bank, said: "Strikes seem rather old fashioned. It is good that they tried to get attention, but it couldn't have been that difficult to find other means."

But others speculated that there might be an underlying lack of awareness of proper communication channels, resulting in them feeling like they have been pushed into a corner.

"This was possibly a measure of last resort as they felt they had nobody else to approach," said IT engineer Winston Tan, 34.

"But with that said, being employed in Singapore, they should be mindful of local laws."

Property agent Linda Thong, 49, said: "Their culture is different and this is how they express unhappiness. They don't know how else to express it."

Many also said the pay differential should be based on meritocracy rather than by nationality, with additional subsidies for accommodation and food made clear.

The respondents said such factors may include their qualifications, productivity, experience and command of English to motivate them to continually upgrade themselves.

Although the incident has been a flashpoint for online vitriol, the sentiments on the ground appear to be more moderate. Said Ms Yeo: "It is usually just a vocal minority online who are hiding behind the wall of anonymity."

Said 16-year-old April Tan, who has just completed her O levels: "In the first place, the PRCs are doing these jobs because Singaporeans don't want to. We should be more accepting of them coming to do jobs we don't want and accept them because they do jobs we deem not worthy."

Bank manager Louis Ong, 32, summed up: "Human resources are a significant cost. Will Singaporeans be able to accept a rise in transport costs?"

* 4 bus drivers jailed for instigation
Three will each serve 6 weeks in jail, and the fourth 7 weeks, for their roles
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2013

FOUR former SMRT bus drivers from China have received jail terms of between six and seven weeks for instigating an illegal strike last November that caused inconvenience to the public.

Gao Yue Qiang, 32, Liu Xiangying, 33, Wang Xianjie, 39, and He Jun Ling, 32, pleaded guilty for their roles in the strike - Singapore's first in 26 years - at the Subordinate Courts yesterday.

Senior District Judge See Kee Onn convicted Gao, Liu and Wang on one charge of conspiring to instigate the protest. They will each serve six weeks in jail.

He, who admitted to two counts of conspiring and inciting others to take part, was jailed seven weeks for each offence. Both sentences will run concurrently.

The men could have been jailed for up to a year or fined up to $2,000 or both. Last December, a fifth driver, Bao Fengshan, 38, was sentenced to six weeks' jail.

They were among 171 China-born drivers who took part in the strike on Nov 26, and the 88 who stayed away again the next day. They were protesting over pay and living conditions.

He's lawyer Choo Zheng Xi said his client is "deeply remorseful" and that the four did not join the unions so they were not able to "collectively negotiate" with SMRT. He said He's actions were not part of a "calculated plan" to disrupt labour relations for personal gain and not meant to alarm the public. "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."

Mr Mark Goh, who represented Liu and Gao, questioned SMRT's conduct as an employer and its efforts to negotiate with drivers.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Francis Ng called for a deterrent sentence. He said they were aware that a strike would disrupt public transport services and "executed a deliberate and considered plan to coerce" SMRT to meet their demands. He labelled He's online missive as "highly incendiary and nothing short of a call to arms".

Judge See said by pleading guilty, the accused were aware that "they could not justify taking the law into their own hands". While he noted they had asked for leniency, he added that "ignorance of the law, however, cannot excuse their conduct entirely".

He also said it may well be the case that their complaints "could have been better managed and will need to be better addressed by SMRT". "The present proceedings are, however, not the appropriate forum for an inquiry into these issues, much less the basis for a judgment on any perceived shortcomings on their employer's part."

In the dock, the four men were expressionless as an interpreter translated the court proceedings. But after they were sentenced, they broke into smiles, shaking the hands of lawyers and thanking them, before they were led away.

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