Singapore lawyers represent Chinese bus drivers pro bono in illegal strike case

Source:Xinhua Published: 2012-12-12 15:58:54

Four Singaporean lawyers were representing on a pro bono basis the four Chinese bus drivers charged with instigating an illegal strike in Singapore.

The lawyers told the judge in court on Wednesday that they need more time to take instructions from their clients as the bus drivers were released on bail on December 6. The judge said a pre- trial conference would be scheduled on December 19.

However, the lawyers said this was not an indication that the drivers would claim trial.

There are three options for the drivers -- claim trial, plead guilty, or make representations to the deputy public prosecutor for the charges to be reduced, said Mark Goh, one of the lawyers representing the drivers.

A pre-trial conference will ensure that the judge has more time to consider the specific needs of each case and administer directions too.

Some 180 Chinese bus drivers working with Singapore public transport operator SMRT took medical leave at the same time on Nov. 26 and Nov. 27 in protest against unequal treatment in pay rises and discriminatory practices of the company that the drivers said existed.

However, their actions were deemed to have been against the law in Singapore, as the laws and rules in place in the city state make it very difficult to have a strike without breaking the law. The government has said, too, that it has zero tolerance for illegal strikes, especially in the essential services like transport.

Five drivers were charged over illegal strike and 29 others were deported to China. One of the five drivers had pleaded guilty without a lawyer and was sentenced to six weeks in jail.

The other four, charged with instigating an illegal strike, were granted bail on Dec. 6. Some members of local non- governmental organizations personally bailed them out on December 6 with a total sum of S$50,000($40,000). Part of the money came from donations by the Singaporean colleagues of the drivers, local media reports said.

Three of the drivers were each facing one count of instigating an illegal strike, while the other driver He Junling, faced an additional count of inciting an illegal strike. The maximum penalty is $2,000($1,600) and 12 months in jail on each count of the charges.

Goh said the lawyers were approached by members of some local non-governmental organizations to help the drivers, who could not afford the services of the lawyers.

"Someone has to do the job," Goh said.

Posted in: Asia-Pacific

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