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Singapore's first strike in 26 years peters out

SINGAPORE, Nov 28, 2012 (AFP) -- Singapore's first strike in 26 years petered out Wednesday with most of the Chinese bus drivers who had stopped working to demand higher pay reporting for duty.

State-linked transport operator SMRT said only six drivers failed to turn up during the morning shift, compared to a total of 171 on Monday, and the company was investigating why they were absent.

The Chinese drivers, who are not unionized and issued no strike declaration, told reporters on Monday they were protesting discrimination in pay because their Malaysian counterparts were getting higher wages for the same work.

The government declared the action an illegal strike on Tuesday, triggering a police investigation.

Strikes and other forms of industrial action are extremely rare in Singapore, where unions work closely with the government and private business, making the port city an attractive place for foreign investment.

The last strike in Singapore was staged in 1986, the manpower ministry said.

Strikes are illegal for workers in "essential services" such as transport unless they give a 14-day notice of their intent and comply with other requirements. The penalty for an illegal strike is a fine of up to Sg$2,000 ($1,636) or a maximum prison term of one year, or both.

The wildcat strike began when the Chinese drivers refused to board a shuttle bus from their dormitory to a nearby depot on Monday.

Local media reported that some of the drivers were apparently unaware they were breaking Singapore law.

SMRT, which has filed a formal complaint to the police, said 171 drivers were involved in the first day, not 102 as it earlier reported, and 88 did not turn up for work on Tuesday.

The Straits Times newspaper's website said a number of Chinese workers who took part in the strike were seen on Wednesday at a police complex where they were "assisting in police investigations", but no arrests have been made.

Police had no immediate comment on the report.

SMRT, which is 54 percent owned by state investment firm Temasek Holdings, has had to hire bus drivers from China and Malaysia due to a chronic worker shortage in Singapore.


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