11-month term shocks unions, which say cabbies are forced to cut fares A taxi driver who gave discounts to two passengers has been jailed for 11 months for conspiring to defraud their employer. The sentence has shocked unions, who said many drivers were forced to resort to illegal discounting to compete for customers because of government inaction to the problem they faced. Cheung Wai-ming had been transporting two PCCW engineers between Kowloon Tong and their homes in Ma On Shan and Fanling between 2001 and 2003, according to his union, the United Friendship Taxi Owners & Drivers Association. It said he gave in to their requests for a discount on the basis that they used his service regularly. The engineers were arrested late last year after their company was alerted by taxi receipts they had submitted in a claim for transport expenses, which showed that they often boarded a taxi at the same time and date. The two were eventually found to have claimed more than they paid in taxi fares. The passengers were jailed for eight and 11 months respectively for conspiring to defraud. Cheung, meanwhile, found himself on a double charge of conspiring to defraud, the union said, and was sentenced on Monday at Eastern Court. He received jail terms for each charge - one of 11 months and one of seven. Au Yeung Kan, chairman of the union, described Cheung's punishment as very unfair and the harshest they had seen. 'The driver in this case had no benefit at all in giving a discount,' he said. 'With a mother, a wife and two children to feed, he is struggling to make ends meet. Illegal discounting has already become so common that there was no way he could compete for passengers if he did not follow suit. We don't think the court and the police have a thorough understanding of our difficulties.' The Transport Department introduced a measure this week that requires taxi drivers to post yellow stickers in their vehicles warning passengers to pay the fare recorded on the meter. Kwok Chi-piu, chairman of the Urban Taxi Drivers' Association Joint Committee, said it was the first time a driver had been jailed for giving a discount. He said cabbies normally received a fine of $1,000 to $2,000 for such offences. While he welcomed the department's new policy, he said it was not an effective deterrent. 'It is ridiculous that current legislation states that taxi-fare bargaining is illegal for drivers but not passengers. The government should revise the law and educate the public, which it has never done despite over a year of lobbying by the unions,' he said. Kwan Yuk-wah, another taxi driver, said he was punched in the face by a half-drunk passenger in May when he refused to give him a discount. He claimed the passenger fell over and broke his arm as he tried to run away. He called the police but the passenger told officers he had been attacked by Mr Kwan. The driver was arrested for common assault but was released after no evidence was found to support the charge. 'The passenger kept shouting every possible swear word at me, but I insisted that I would not give any discount,' Mr Kwan said. 'His attitude is not uncommon. We taxi drivers will have no self-esteem if the government continues to turn a blind eye to the problem.'