(I first posted a version of this on Facebook. It was a response to the Straits Times article featured below, in which former labour chief, Lim Boon Heng, insinuated the SMRT bus strike could have been prevented if the drivers had taken the initiative to join the transport union.)
The foreign bus captains of SMRT did not join the union and so had no one to take up their grievances. Even then, they could have joined the union and asked the union to take up those issues. It was not necessary to go on an illegal strike.
~ MR LIM BOON HENG, former labour chief, Sunday Times, May 5, 2013
1) He Jun Ling, who was jailed for participating in the strike, told Yahoo his concerted efforts to join a union came to nought. From Yahoo:
He said his first priority was to join a union here, and he sought help at three different management levels within SMRT to do this but was told he was not allowed.
“I personally asked the company three times for permission… and they rejected me all three times, telling me that our (Chinese) contracts were different from the Malaysian ones — ours were two-year contracts while theirs were long-term ones — and those on two-year contracts cannot join the union.”
2) SMRT and the National Transport Workers’ Union signed a collective agreement as of 5 April 2012 that excludes foreign employees as well as temporary and contract employees. Therefore, even if the bus drivers had joined the union, the collective agreement renders this membership pointless. (This was revealed at a public forum on the SMRT bus strike and its implications, reviewed here. You can also read He Jun Ling’s mitigation plea – see point 18 – here).
It is therefore grossly misleading to insinuate that:
a) the bus drivers had no interest in joining a union (at least in the initial stages before they found out the union was disinterested in assisting them);
b) ‘joining the union’ would have solved the drivers’ grievances in a satisfactory or ‘equitable’ way.
The fact that the union signed such a collective agreement in the first place demonstrates they had limited interest in rendering assistance to/represent foreign employees.
The SMRT Saga: Anatomy Of A Strike – Part 1, by Lianain Films, April 3, 2013
Former SMRT bus driver: Why we went on strike (Part 1), from Yahoo!Newsroom, April 5, 2013
The website, Workfair Singapore, has a collection of articles related to the SMRT bus strike, including interviews with former SMRT bus drivers, related civil society statements, and mitigation pleas.