Wednesday 19 December 2012

MOM defends use of 'illegal strike'

Civil society group says using the term could prejudice pending cases
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2012

AN ACCUSATION by a civil society group that the repeated use of the term "illegal strike" could prejudice the pending cases of four SMRT bus drivers in court has been dismissed as "baseless" by the Manpower Ministry (MOM).

Yesterday morning, Function8 issued a statement calling on the Government, SMRT and media to stop referring to the drivers' action last month as an "illegal strike".

"It is commenting on a pending case and the law is clear that such comments are sub judice and constitute contempt of court," said the group, known for its campaign against the Internal Security Act.

Four drivers have been charged with instigating an illegal strike and are now out on bail. A fifth driver was given six weeks' jail for his involvement.

Function8 said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin "was quick to label the action" taken by 171 drivers as an "illegal strike" - a term picked up and used "relentlessly" by the media.

The group said the repeated allegations that the action constituted an illegal strike give the impression that "what the bus drivers had done was 'illegal' and that there was indeed a 'strike'".

Since the cases have not been determined by the court, it was "grievously wrong and prejudicial" to use the term 'illegal strike'", it charged.

MOM, however, quickly hit back at the remarks the same day, and called the accusations "entirely baseless".

"The Singapore Government, including Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and the Manpower Ministry, has never attempted to prejudice the cases," said a ministry spokesman.

MOM also explained that Mr Tan's description of the drivers' action was based on the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which says it is illegal for essential service workers to take industrial action without 14 days' notice.

"Mr Tan's comments to call it 'an illegal strike' were made with that in mind, and he referred to workers participating in the strike in general, without referring to the participation of any particular worker (s), or to any matter pending before a court of law," said the spokesman.

Function8 also asked why the ministry had not explained why it revoked the work permits of 29 other drivers "so swiftly", and why they were not allowed legal representation. MOM said the 29 drivers were given an opportunity to be heard during the strike, and their work permits were revoked only after due consideration by the Controller of Work Passes.

"There is no requirement for legal representation in such a process, and no request was made in this regard by any of the 29 workers," it said.

A pre-trial conference for the four men is due to take place tomorrow. It has not been confirmed whether the four will be contesting the charges in a trial.

No comments:

Post a Comment