(Photo image: www.therealsingapore.com)
The deportation was swift and some say, unexpected. Almost as soon as authorities labelled the industrial action that gripped SMRT on the 26th and 27th of November an ‘illegal strike’, 20 drivers from China were rounded up for questioning. They were taken to the Police Cantonment Complex on the 28th of November and held for at least half a day. Some only left the next morning.
Following initial investigations, 29 Chinese drivers were eventually taken into police custody between the 30th of November and the 1st of December, accused of participating in the ‘illegal strike’. The men had their work permits cancelled and were all repatriated on the 2nd of December.
Workfair managed to track down and speak to three of the 29 drivers in separate interviews. Accounts of what led to the work stoppage and what transpired during the ‘illegal strike’ differ. But all three men said they were not given an opportunity to defend themselves before being summarily dismissed from their jobs and sent home.
Jiang Li Qiang (蒋立强)
What happened when you were taken into custody?
There were about five to six procedures to complete. They first revoked our work permits and got us to sign some documents. Then we were told we had violated some rules and laws and would be repatriated.
Who talked to you?
Some government department officers. I don’t know who they were. They just wanted me to confess that on the 27th, I went on strike. I argued with them and said that you could say that I went on strike on the 26th, but I would never confess that I went on strike on the 27th.
Did anyone else talk to you?
Yes. The officer at the prison mentioned that they understood that we were feeling unhappy. But the whole thing has already been decided and there is nothing much we can do. Then the representative from the Chinese Embassy showed up. We felt it was unnecessary [for them to come] because nothing was going to change. At 1am, we went to the airport and at 6am we arrived China.
Were you told what laws you violated?
They only told us that no protests are allowed in Singapore. We had violated this law but the fact is that we did not [deliberately] get involved in the strike. If we had known of other ways to reflect our condition, we would not have gone on a strike. If the company enquired about our situation on a regular basis, there would not be an incident like this. If they had held a meeting on wages, I don’t think things would have become so serious. I think it is because of a lack of communication and proper management [that the strike happened].
He Zhi Yi (贺志义)
I was on the morning shift on November 30. A colleague told me not to go work because the company had something for me. I waited in the dorm. In the afternoon, the company called me and said that the police needed to clarify some things. I boarded a company bus. The bus route did not seem to be heading to the police station but I had no idea where it was heading. I knew it was very far out from the main road. I had never been on that road. On turning into a smaller road, I began to realize that I was at a prison.
We went in, and an officer told us that we would be repatriated. I stood up and asked what offence I had committed and why I was asked to leave. The officer said that it was due to the strike. I said it was not a strike – it was to defend our own rights. The officer smiled, he told us this was not up to him, it was [a decision] from management. There was no room for reasoning – he was just going through the process. We then dealt with our bank accounts, immigration and other government agencies and finally, my work pass was cancelled. Then we were taken to another room.
After my work pass was cancelled, I felt like another person. I was no longer a respectable bus driver but a prisoner. Maybe the way the police treated us as we moved from room to room made me feel that way. There were quite a number of them holding guns and pointing their guns at me as they instructed me to move forward and directed me to the rooms. At the first room I did my medical check and in the next room I was asked to take a shower. I told them I showered before coming. They were very forceful and forced me to shower. After that our civilian clothes were taken and sealed in a big bag. We were given prison uniforms to change into. The shirt and pants were way too big for me. Then we were sent into a prison cell.
Wang Yong (王勇)
When we arrived at the prison, they didn’t tell us anything. They told us we could not use our phone and could not say a thing. Then we realized the seriousness of our situation. We were brought into a room with many special police. Some investigation bureau chief told us we will be repatriated and all our personal belongings would be collected for us.
Many people there were very angry and lost control of their emotions. They cried that they were innocent, that this came so suddenly, and that we were not prepared.
Later we were asked one by one to go to different desks. The police bureau chief let us sign some documents and gave us a warning, but mentioned that no one will be charged. Then we went through the immigration desk and finally got our work permits and driving licenses cancelled. There was a desk to deal with our bank accounts. The staff told me that the money in our bank accounts would be sent to us and asked for our addresses in China. They said the whole process would be very fast. However, after one month, I still haven’t received my money.
When were you sent to the airport?
I was sent to the airport on 1 December with two other drivers from Chengdu. We didn’t know each other until we were sent to the airport – we didn’t live in the same hostel. But we have stayed in contact since returning to China.
Before we got to the airport, they kept saying they would allow us to call home but they never did. Their attitude was so rude – one of the officers shouted at us, saying, “We just won’t let you call!”
Although we were angry, all of us decided to bear with it.
What about all your belongings?
We told them that all our personal belongings were still in our hostel, so we asked for permission to go back to pack up. They said this was impossible and didn’t allow us to go back. They promised that all our belongings would be brought to us. However, there were still some things that were left in the hostel, though they weren’t worth much. They just transferred everything to the prison and before we were called to go to the airport, they let us pick our things from the pool of items and then immediately sent us to the airport, as though they were afraid we would run away.
How were you treated while in prison?
They told us that whatever we were going to say would be futile. All documents were in English and there was no translator. Some of us wanted to call our families, but they didn’t allow us to and spoke to us in a rude manner. Later, we were sent to a prison cell, about three persons to a cell. We were told to strip off our clothes and change into prison clothes.
Were you interrogated?
We were not interrogated. They also never told us what offence we committed such that they had to repatriate us. They just told us, “It’s been decided.”