Labour MP Melvin Yong calls out unsafe transport arrangements for migrant workers, says lorries should transport goods, not people

By May 11, 2021Current, Work

TL;DR – He also opined that the workers have a right to safe transportation.

Within a short period, two separate accidents of a lorry carrying foreign workers were reported.

In the first accident, two workers died and 15 were injured. Whilst in the second accident, which came just four days after the first, saw ten men taken to the hospital.

In a blog post published on May 9, Labour MP Melvin Yong called out such unsafe travel arrangement, and urged that trucks and lorries should not be used to transport workers,

“To put simply, they should be used to transport goods, not people.”

The labour MP also highlighted a “perfectly viable alternative” for transporting migrant workers, which are buses with seat belts.

 

While the MP is keenly aware of the challenges –particularly the financial impacts – that companies will face in implementing such an alternative, he urged the government to help offset the financial burden employers will face when enhancing the transportation safety of these migrant workers.

He also added that the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is already working with the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU), the Singapore Contractors Association Ltd (SCAL), and relevant government agencies to push for the implementation of separate transport arrangements for migrant workers as soon as possible.

While the tripartite negotiations are underway, he suggested interim safety measures to protect migrant workers, such as:

  • Hiring a dedicated driver with a mandatory vocational license to transport workers
  • Installing proper seat belts in lorries for the workers
  • Limiting the lorries’ traveling speed when transporting workers
  • Banning the co-mingling of goods and passengers in goods vehicles

The NTUC Assistant Secretary-General concluded his blogpost emphasizing:

“Workers have a right to safe transportation. We need to ensure that the vehicles used are safe and drivers are properly trained.

The Labour Movement will work closely with the relevant authorities, SCAL and BATU to explore some of the suggestions above so that we can create a safer environment to transport our workers, because Every Worker Matters.”

Measures implemented over the years

Unbeknownst to many, the issue of migrant workers being transported on the back of lorries instead of buses or vans has been debated since at least 2010.

Various advocacy groups advocating for migrant workers have been calling for such unsafe practices to be banned.

Others, including President Halimah Yacob, Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza and former MP Lam Pin Min had too, urged the authorities to review such travel arrangements.

Here’s a timeline, lifted from Straits Times, of how rules on ferrying workers by lorry has changed over the years:

August 2009: Stricter rules to protect workers ferried in lorries were unveiled after almost 18 months of review. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Ministry of Manpower’s plan would be rolled out in three phases over 2009 to 2012. Disallowing the transport of workers on the back of lorries was ruled out as there was “no strong justification” to merit its impact on businesses. It also noted that unlike trucks used by the Singapore Armed Forces, installing safety belts was not feasible or cost effective for commercial vehicles.

September 2009: First phase of new safety standards kick in. This includes raising penalties for first-time offenders who overload lorries, and lowering the maximum allowable height of a seated worker from 3.2m measured from the road surface to 1.1m measured from the carriage deck.

January 2010: Since Jan 1, newly registered lorries that carry workers on the carriage deck have to be fitted with higher side railings and canopies.

June 2010: On June 22, three workers died after they were thrown off an overloaded lorry on the Pan-Island Expressway. Fourteen workers were also hurt. The next day, a 24ft lorry carrying 40 workers crashed into a tree in Jurong Road, injuring six.

July 2010: Madam Halimah Yacob and Mr Christopher de Souza were among five Members of Parliament who called for stricter safety standards. Then Minister for Transport Raymond Lim said LTA will strengthen public education on road safety and bring forward the deadline for compulsory installation of canopies and higher side railings. Accident statistics during the 10-month period before and after 2009 measures showed that injury cases were reduced by about 17 per cent, added Mr Lim.

February 2011: Since Feb 1, all light lorries used to transport workers have to retrofit canopies and higher side railings, ahead of the initial deadline of September 1, 2012. LTA also imposed higher fines and demerit points on lorry owners and drivers who flout safety regulations.

July 2011: A rule to double the minimum seating space for workers at the back of lorries to 8 sq ft from Aug 1, 2011 is delayed, and later shelved, after industry stakeholders voiced operational concerns.

August 2011: Since Aug 1, all heavy lorries have to comply with the same safety rules as light lorries.

Despite the various measures implemented by authorities over the years, it is clear that more needs to be done to prevent such accidents from happening.

Do you think what Labour MP Melvin Yong suggested is in the right direction to solve the problem of unsafe transportation of migrant workers?

 

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Gabrielle Teo

Author Gabrielle Teo

I read lots, and I also spend an indecent amount of time trying to get my mostly unpopular opinions published. Oh, I argue a lot with fellow Singaporeans who complain incessantly about Singapore too.

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