Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

National Culture

Last week’s strike by SMRT bus drivers from China has been a hot topic. I was quite shocked that it took our official media that long to recognise and label their actions as a strike. The “did not turn up for work” label was just so awkward to read. Fortunately, our government did not try to spin the strike as some other more benign activity, otherwise I think many Singaporeans are going to be so unhappy.

Interestingly, I thought the grouses from the Chinese drivers were not very different from some of our (i.e. Singaporean) own complaints of our employers. Pay is a touchy subject, and if there is any perceived unfairness in remuneration, it is sure to provoke much emotional responses. Other factors just add fuel.

I think, many of us, have our own stories of how unfair our own employers are, how we felt victimised, how terrible working conditions or environments are, etc. Some of these aren’t at the personal level, but could be representative of a large group of employees.

Of course, as Singaporeans, we are aware that strikes are mostly illegal. Also, I don’t think it is so much that we want to strike, but that we have other avenues to air our unhappiness, even if these aren’t necessarily the correct way to channel our feedback.

The Chinese workers didn’t know they weren’t allowed to strike, or at least not in the manner they did so. Of course, it’s not an excuse to not know of the law of the country. If you are in a new country, you should really try to put on your best behaviour. They were probably very shocked to learn that their actions were illegal. As we know it now, one driver has been sentenced to 6 weeks jail, and 29 are awaiting repatriation. Another 4 drivers have also been charged.

Most Singaporeans are in agreement that the Chinese drivers should be dealt with according to the law. I think, some of us are actually pleased that they are being dealt with. I wonder if this is because these people are such sticklers for abiding by the laws, or perhaps there is this resentment of foreign talent. After all, this matter of foreign talent has become a touchy topic.

We are increasingly becoming very globalised. It becomes increasingly more important to be aware of different cultures. If you go to a foreign land, you need to learn and blend into the foreign culture. Nowadays, even if you stay put in your own homeland, it also becomes necessary to understand and manage different cultures.

Some of the funny things that happen in my workplace are captured by signage that remind people of the appropriate behaviour in Singapore. E.g.

  • Don’t brush your teeth at the pantry sink.
  • Don’t dump tea leaves in the toilet sink.
  • Water dispenser is only for drinking.

Yeah, there are plenty more. It’s sometimes challenging having to manage working with different cultures, and more surprising that you also need to do it while you’re in your own homeland.

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