We agree that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) should take the allegations of police abuse by the 2 ex-SMRT drivers very seriously and that thorough investigations should be made to ensure the veracity of these claims. However, it is not right for MHA to suggest the drivers’ claims are baseless just because they had not raised their complaints during investigations, or had opportunities to do so after that. The veracity of a claim should not be dismissed simply because of the timing in which the complaint was made. As both the Singapore Police Force and the Internal Affairs Office (IAO) fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the IAO should show how it was able to conduct its investigations and arrive at its conclusions independently.
Furthermore, for the sake of public interest and transparency, MHA should reveal how the drivers’ statements were contradictory and give a full account of the investigation. Far from being vindicated, as suggested by the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Teo Chee Hean, this incident still leaves many questions unanswered. It is also disturbing that the Attorney-General’s Chambers is considering taking action against ‘persons in this case’, as stated in the Sunday Times article, because the video which was publicized was merely a recording of the ex-drivers’ experiences when they were under police investigation. Any punitive action taken by the authorities in this matter is a threat to civil liberties and fundamental freedoms.
The Ministry of Manpower continues to stress there are ‘proper channels’ for workers to address their concerns. The crux of the matter, however, lies less in whether such channels exist, but whether processes and outcomes are justice-oriented. The MOM has adopted a narrowly legalistic stance, dismissing claims it defines as non-statutory. This sanctions unethical behaviour by companies such as SMRT and its appointed agents, including discriminatory treatment and contract substitution (a form of deception). This stance is also problematic because it ignores the reality that Singapore’s legislative framework for labour rights falls short of international benchmarks in key areas related to worker discrimination and freedom of association. The exclusion of SMRT drivers from China from union protection at the time of the strike also challenges assertions that ‘proper channels’ were accessible to them.
The drivers’ complaints are not new. Contract substitution, deceptive recruitment practices, poor accommodation, inadequate rest and pay inequalities are issues which non-governmental organizations working on migrant worker issues have raised for many years through their advocacy and meetings with government officials. These problems continue to persist because of discriminatory policies and the lack of effective and consistent enforcement.
We reiterate our call for the state to:
a) Redress the imbalance of power between corporations and workers;
b) Protect all workers against inequality, exploitation and discrimination in the workplace;
c) Allow independent trade unions in Singapore;
d) Review our labour rights framework to ensure it meets international standards.
This statement is issued by the following organisations in alphabetical order:
Maruah (Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, Singapore)
And the following individuals:
Teo Soh Lung
Noorashikin Abdul Rahman
Wong Souk Yee
Paul Anantharajah Tambyah
Pak Geok Choo
 Feng Zengkun, ‘Strikers’ Allegations of Police Abuse – Bus Drivers’ Claims Baseless: Ministry’, Straits Times, April 21, 2013.