Volunteering at the Migrant Worker Legal Clinic

Editor’s Note: 
Issues relating to migrant workers have recently come under the spotlight. Read about how it was like volunteering at the Migrant Worker Legal Clinic for Vanessa, Charmaine and Wei Zhen. 
What is the Migrant Worker Legal Clinic?
Migrant Worker Legal Clinic is an initiative jointly organised by the Law Society of Singapore’s Pro Bono Services Office and Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC), providing free legal counselling services for work permit and S pass holders. The help-centre is strategically located in Geylang next to the Aljunied MRT, which is where many worker dormitories are situated. MWC staff who are fluent in the native languages of the migrant workers will be present to provide interpretation services if needed.

The legal clinic helps to ameliorate the power imbalance between employers and workers, because of the workers’ lack of knowledge of their legal rights and our legal procedures, by providing a simple and free avenue for workers to obtain legal advice and information. Workers typically do not have access to such information because of language barriers and high costs involved in seeking legal help, which can leave them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

Meritorious cases may be channeled to the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme through the legal clinic, where Pro Bono Services Office will assign a defence counsel to represent the workers for free in court.


Coming to MWC’s inaugural legal clinic session, we were surprised to find that our first case involved not an individual worker, but 4 workers facing the same salary dispute with the same company.  In response to this new situation, besides going through the usual procedure of interviewing each individual worker, we also deviated slightly by addressing and advising the 4 workers collectively as a whole afterwards. This proved to be very helpful as we later learnt that this problem was much more widespread and that a good number of other workers were similarly in the same predicament, arising out of the employer’s bad practices.

Our second surprise came when the second case involved not a migrant worker per se, but a migrant social worker bringing a case for the sakes of migrant workers. This was a really heartening twist to the typical salary and injury claims workers bring, and it was encouraging to witness how even Malaysians were so willing to help out migrant workers.

We can only say the experience was a humbling one.

Having volunteered with migrant worker NGOs previously, we were humbled as these two cases were so complex and so different from our past experiences. It was humbling, because the cases were not just diverse, but exhibited various shades of complexity, opening our eyes a little wider to seeing and comprehending the enormity of issues that could besiege workers simply due to their status as being in transit between Singapore and their home country. It was humbling, because it showed us how there were limits to what lawyers and the law could do. It was humbling, because it showed us how much more work there needs to be done in this area.

As the workers walked off with a clearer idea of the solutions available to them, we too walked away with a clearer idea of how we could be part of the solution. This legal clinic session did not just add to our understanding of the common problems that besiege workers. It also showed us how we, in our personal capacities as law students, could fit in the framework of helping to resolve those specific legal issues.

Article Contributed By:

Vanessa Chiam, Charmaine Yap, Lim Wei Zhen (NUS Law Year 1s)

Elections & AGM

Hi Everyone!

With the academic year coming towards an end, it’s time for the Pro Bono Group Annual Elections.

Come on down to support your friends, and receive a mystery token of appreciation for your hard work and contributions in your individual projects over the year!

The Elections & AGM will take place on the 19th March 2014 (Wednesday), 1-4PM at the Staff Lounge!

See you there!

Valentine’s Day Fundraising

vdayfundraising2014VALENTINE’S DAY is around the corner!

This year,  NUS LSIRC, NUS Pro Bono Group and the NUS Law RAG Committee are collaborating to hold a fundraising event on 13th February and 14th February.

There will be the sale of roses, cookies and balloons, busking, song dedications, games and a photobooth!

All proceeds will go to a charity organisation, TWC2 (Transient Workers Count Too) and to RAG.

So join us at NUS, Faculty of Law, outside co-op, on Thursday 13th February and Friday 14th February!

See you there!

NUS Pro Bono Scoop (Jan/Feb 2014)

The NUS Pro Bono Group is proud to present our (revived) newsletter. By bringing our Pro Bono updates a little closer to home, it is our hope that you will be inspired to find ways to lend a helping hand to those around you too! Have a good read and here is wishing everyone a wonderful semester ahead! Stay tuned for the next issue!

01 02

A Night to be Remembered

As far as Friday evenings go, nowhere are they more appreciated in than Law School. The 4th of October was no exception even though the Pro Bono Group was still in school for our very own cohesion at the Upper Quad long after the last tutorial ended. A good sky graced the evening and with the fluffy pillows and bamboo mats on the field, who could have asked for a better way to end the week and get together as a group?

As the crowd slowly streamed in so did good humour. Getting into the mood, everyone, courtesy of comical props and silly antics, realized a few digital memories at a photobooth foreshadowing the upcoming Halloween celebrations.


And yes, everyone means everyone

Professor Helena Whalen-Bridge opened the event with a speech reinforcing the significance of the Pro Bono Group’s efforts and how it is ultimately a privilege to use the skills we acquire in law school for the greater good in our pro bono work. It was a heartening reminder that we had come together as a club to celebrate that privilege.

Short and succinct was the speech, to the gratitude of the many hungry souls. The cohesion then started in earnest with the serving of food and up-beat performances by our talented peers taking us into the evening.

singerKenii took us through most of the evening with his crooning and ended off by telling us what the fox says

After many rousing songs and good company, the night soon came to a close. Judging from the sea of happy faces, it was indeed another enjoyable evening out on the Upper Quad.


A round of applause for the talents on show.

Though we come with a desire to serve and contribute, it may well be futile if we do not come together to enjoy the sense of community and be reminded that we are part of a greater effort that does not walk alone in our journey to inform, to be involved and to inspire. Here’s to another great year for meaningful and fruitful Pro Bono projects!

Written by: Ryce Lee and Joshua Goh
Photographs by: Leung Liwen

Pro Bono in the news

Chief Justice Menon urges new lawyers to embrace pro bono work 
Channel Newsasia , 27 July 2013

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon emphasised the importance of an active engagement in pro bono work amongst lawyers. Addressing community law, the Chief Justice also said that community lawyers are a necessity.

Read about it here.

Law students take to pro bono work
The Straits Times, 1 September 2013

As part of the mandatory pro bono requirement that will apply next May, law students will soon have to do up to 20 hours of unpaid volunteer work in their second year of study. Meanwhile, first year students from the National University of Singapore are already actively involved in various pro bono projects ahead of the mandatory requirement.

Read about it here.