SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Manpower has refuted civil society group Function 8’s accusations that the use of the term "illegal strike" to describe the actions of SMRT bus drivers in late November is wrong and prejudicial.
The ministry’s spokesperson added the "serious accusations" are "entirely baseless".
Four SMRT workers were charged in court last month with instigating the incident, which took place over a pay dispute.
Early this month, another driver was charged in court and sentenced to six weeks’ jail after he admitted to taking part in the incident.
In an earlier statement to the media, Function 8 said the workers were "doomed from the start" and called a stop to the use of the term "illegal strike".
The group added the term gives the impression that what the bus drivers had done was "illegal" and that there was indeed a "strike".
It said since the cases have not been determined by the court, it is "grievously wrong and prejudicial" to the bus drivers to label their action as such.
Function 8 also said that the ministry is commenting on a pending case and such comments are sub judice and constitute contempt of court.
It also said repeated claims that the drivers had participated in an "illegal strike" amount to prejudging their case and can only be calculated to influence the decision of the judge.
But MOM said the government, including Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan—Jin and the Manpower Ministry, has never attempted to prejudice the case.
They added that Part III of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act or CLTPA clearly outlines that strike action taken in respect of essential services such as public transport is deemed illegal, unless 14 days’ notice has been given.
It was with that in mind that Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan—Jin used the term "illegal strike".
MOM also pointed out that Mr Tan referred to workers participating in the strike in general.
He did not refer to the participation of any particular worker, or to any matter pending before a court of law.
In its statement, Function 8 had also questioned why MOM had revoked the work passes of 29 bus drivers so swiftly.
It also asked why it did not allow them legal representation or give them an opportunity to be heard.
Clarifying the incident, MOM said the 29 bus drivers were provided with an opportunity to be heard in relation to their conduct during the strike.
The ministry said the work permits were only revoked after due consideration by the Controller of Work Passes.
It added there is no requirement for legal representation in such a process, and no request was made in this regard by any of the 29 workers.
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