At the courts

13 bus drivers in lawsuit against SBS Transit discharge lawyer M. Ravi

The 13 bus drivers suing transport operator SBS Transit have discharged their lawyer M. Ravi and are seeking a refund of the balance of fees they had paid him using crowdfunding.

In a statement yesterday, the lead plaintiff in the case, Mr Chua Qwong Meng, said the drivers were very embarrassed by Mr Ravi's behaviour towards Justice Audrey Lim and SBS Transit's lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, during a hearing into the case on Monday.

Mr Ravi had accused Justice Lim of being biased and demanded that she recuse herself from hearing the case.

He also called Mr Singh a "clown" while they were discussing administrative matters.

The proceedings were held via videoconference.

Mr Chua said in his statement: "We do not condone Mr Ravi's behaviour at all and what he displayed yesterday was a total shock to us, who had put our trust in him. He has let us down very badly and hurt our case immeasurably."

He added that the drivers have so far paid Mr Ravi more than $55,000 to represent them. This money was raised through public donations.

During the hearing on Monday, Mr Ravi had also claimed there was a breach of the right to a fair trial and that his clients "(don't) have faith in the system". He also said the drivers did not want to participate any more in "these unlawful proceedings".

Mr Chua said yesterday: "There is no truth whatsoever to Mr Ravi's allegation... that we have no faith in the Singapore judicial system and that we do not intend to proceed with the case."

The drivers have informed the court that they intend to proceed with the litigation and are now looking for a new lawyer to represent them, Mr Chua added.

The lawsuit arose after a dispute between the bus drivers and the operator over overtime pay and working hours.

The case centres on the interpretation of provisions in the Employment Act relating to whether a rest day can be scheduled such that an employee is made to work on 12 consecutive days over a 14-day period and whether bus drivers fall within the definition of employees providing "essential services".

The 13 workers, who filed suits in 2019 and last year against SBS Transit, claim that they had been made to work without a rest day each week and were underpaid for overtime work.

In June, Justice Lim said the case involved important questions of law that would affect a larger class of workers in Singapore, and allowed the case to be transferred to the High Court.

She said there would be potential ramifications on how such employment contracts are structured in terms of granting days off, computing overtime pay and determining work hours.

Mr Chua's suit is being heard as a test case. This means that the court's decision and findings will be binding on all the plaintiffs.

In a letter to the Supreme Court on Monday seen by The Straits Times, Mr Chua requested that proceedings be adjourned until a new lawyer is appointed. He also said he would not proceed with any application for Justice Lim to recuse herself.

He has asked Mr Ravi to hand over all documents relating to the case by next Monday and for a full statement of payments made.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2021, with the headline '13 bus drivers in lawsuit against SBS Transit discharge lawyer M. Ravi'. Subscribe