M'sian toll-hike protestors warn: We'll do it again
Thousands of stranded passengers forced to walk across Causeway when hundreds of buses go on strike in Johor Baru during morning rush hour
Yesterday, at 4am, he was woken up by a phone call.
One of his Malaysian workers had called to tell him that the workers' buses to Singapore were not running and he would not be able to turn up for work.
In the next four hours, Mr Gary Haris, 39, the senior business development manager of KH Security Agency, would get nearly 60 similar calls from his staff in Malaysia and Singapore.
About 20 per cent of his work force are Malaysians who commute from Johor daily.
They were either unable to come to work or return home after a bus strike yesterday at the Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) Complex in Johor Baru.
The drivers of more than 200 buses from Malaysian transport companies parked their buses at the CIQ from 4am to 8am to protest against the increase in toll charges, causing a giant traffic jam.
Toll charges at the CIQ for all vehicles, except motorcycles, went up yesterday.
The bus operators and drivers were upset by the 500 per cent hike in the bus toll charge - from RM2.30 (S$0.90) to RM13.30.
The bus strike meant that thousands of stranded passengers had to walk 1km across the Causeway to Singapore. (See report at right.)
The strike eased at 8am only after the Malaysian authorities intervened, but no solution was reached. (See report on page 4.)
But the damage had been done.
Said Mr Haris: "It was total chaos. I had to scramble to find people and relief staff to take over from my Malaysian staff and I had to pay these people overtime.
"About 40 day-shift security guards were supposed to come in for work this morning and another 20 night-shift workers could not return to Malaysia."
Many of his security guards are deployed at condominiums and warehouses.
Mr Haris had to offer those unable to return home an advance of their salaries or a loan so they could stay at budget hotels here as they had to start work again at 7pm.
That works out to about $100 per person, or around $2,000 in total.
The strike also meant a day off for the 40 workers who could not travel to Singapore.
Some of those stuck in Singapore scrambled to make last-minute arrangements, such as a couple who had left their young child in the care of a friend in their Johor home.
The friend had to cancel her plans to take care of the child, said Mr Haris.
Another of his Malaysian guards, Mr Sivaraj Nair, 21, failed in his attempt to get home.
Mr Nair wanted to take a Causeway Link bus to get home to Johor Baru from Newton, but there were no buses when he got there.
After waiting half an hour, he gave up and took a taxi to Kranji at 9am, where SBS Transit bus service 170 to Johor Baru was still running.
By then, Mr Sivaraj had realised there was a bus strike in JB.
"There were a lot of Malaysians there, like myself, who looked worried that they couldn't get home. Many friends also called me to tell me that they could not come in to work," he said.
"I couldn't even board the 170 bus. Too many people were trying to squeeze into it."
He called Mr Haris for a salary advance so he could get a room at a budget hotel in Geylang at $70 for a half-day stay.
Said Mr Haris: "There is a lot of uncertainty right now. What if the strike continues? I hope the two governments can come together to resolve this soon."
6 months pregnant but she makes 1km trek across Causeway
She battled fainting spells and breathlessness as she waddled past the Malaysia and Singapore checkpoints to reach her workplace.
Mrs Wong Hui Juin, who is six months pregnant, was forced to disembark at the Custom & Immigration Quarantine Complex (CIQ) in Johor Baru, and walk all the way into Singapore, before hopping on an SMRT cross-border bus to the nearest MRT station.
"I only got a seat when I boarded the train at Marsiling MRT station," said the Singapore permanent resident.
Mrs Wong, 27, a shipping executive, has been taking the same route from Johor Baru to Singapore since she started primary school here nearly two decades ago.
But yesterday was the first time she had been caught in such a situation.
"I was worried the moment I realised I needed to walk all the way to Woodlands Centre to catch a bus," added Mrs Wong, who said she has had fainting spells on four previous occasions at the CIQ.
'LONG AND TIRING'
"I didn't know if I would be able to make it through the whole walk," said Mrs Wong, who has a two-year-old son.
Describing her 1½-hour long walk, which started from 5.20am, she said: "The walk was long and tiring. I went up and down slopes and even had to climb two flights of stairs at Singapore's checkpoint."
She felt especially giddy when climbing the stairs. Mrs Wong said that it was likely that her fainting spells were aggravated by her low blood pressure and travelling on an empty stomach.
"I wake up early at 4.30am every day to make sure I get to the office in the Central Business District early so that I have time for breakfast," she said.
Adding that she wakes up an hour earlier to take into account any traffic jam at the two checkpoints, she said: "I can't afford to wake up any earlier."
While she was not late for work, the walk took a toll on her.
"My legs are still sore now. I feel like they are going to cramp up anytime," she told The New Paper at 2pm yesterday.
Despite the long walk, Mrs Wong said she does not blame the Malaysian bus drivers.
She said: "I am angry with Malaysia's government, which has been hiking prices on many things since they won the election last year.
"I really hope our government can see this and stop making our lives tougher with these price hikes."
Mrs Wong added: "I'm willing to walk in support of the drivers who protested."
- FOO JIE YING
M'sians studying in S'pore late for school
When he reached the bus station at the Malaysian Customs early yesterday, he was greeted with a chaotic sight.
The place was packed with people, just sitting around.
It was about 5.30am and Marsiling Secondary School student Muhd Azmin Azman, 17, was on his way to school.
He usually takes bus service 170 to get across the Causeway, but there was not a bus in sight.
Seeing a large crowd walking towards Singapore on the Causeway, he decided to follow suit.
Azmin told The New Paper: "I saw some Malaysian Customs officers standing on the road, managing the crowd which was walking across.
"I felt very frustrated as I was sweating early in the morning and I was late for school. I came in at 8am - 40 minutes late."
But he was not punished because his teachers knew about the strike.
Azmin said that two out of four Malaysian students in his class did not turn up,probably because of the chaos at the checkpoint.
Another student from the school, Pang Yi Loong, 15, said he was supposed to take a workers' bus, but there was none yesterday morning.
He said: "There was no transport at all, not even (bus service) 170. The bus station was very crowded when I got there at about 5.30am.
"Factory workers were sitting everywhere, on the road and on the floor. It was really difficult to even walk through."
He decided to walk to Singapore on the Causeway.
"Even the bus stop right outside Woodlands Checkpoint was packed with people.
"In the end, I had to walk all the way to school (in Marsiling Road)," said Yi Loong.
A Ministry of Education spokesman said the ministry and schools are monitoring the situation and working with parents to make advance arrangements for their children, should the need arise.
- YUE YONG SHENG