SINGAPORE: Last week, more than 100 local civil society organizations and community groups through joint statements urged the Singapore government to immediately ban the practice of ferrying migrant workers on lorries.
These groups and concerned members of the public recalled the tragic incident on 18 and 19 July last month, where a total of 37 workers were injured. These incidents involved lorries transporting migrant workers, raising serious concerns about the safety of their transportation.
In a joint statement issued on 24 July by 47 collective groups and concerned members of the public, it was emphasized that lorries are not designed to carry passengers safely.
They urged the government to establish a clear timeline for banning the use of lorries to transport workers and to ensure their safe transportation on vehicles equipped with seats and seat belts.
Subsequently, another 57 local civil society organizations and community groups made strong criticism of the government’s “feeble steps” to resolve the issue. They also urged the government to initiate a Ministry of Transport (MOT) program to support companies in transitioning towards safer modes of transport.
“If our Ministers would not put their children in the backs of lorries, then they have no business putting other people’s children – our migrant brothers – in the backs of lorries. Migrant workers’ lives matter. And they certainly matter more than their bosses’ profits,” the statement wrote.
Singapore business group cited ‘complexities’ concern over possible changes to worker transportation regulations
However, in the latest development, a coalition of 25 business bodies issued a joint statement on Tuesday (1 Aug), where they cited “real, practical, and operational complexities” to excuse the elimination of transporting workers on the backs of lorries for safety reasons.
According to media reports, the business associations, including the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, and entities under the Specialist Trade Alliance of Singapore, such as the Micro Builders Association and the Singapore Plumbing Society, jointly addressed their concerns to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Acting Minister of Transport Chee Hong Tat, and Senior Minister of State Amy Khor.
The statement highlighted the potential impacts of regulatory changes, such as a ban on transporting workers via lorries, on sectors that have traditionally relied on this practice. The possibility of project delays and its adverse effects on workers’ livelihoods were underscored.
the business groups pointed out the various factors including “geographic constraints, limited infrastructure, and economic realities that certain regions and industries face” that have necessitated the use of lorries to transport workers.
The statement warned of possible societal consequences such as increased traffic, commuter congestion, and infrastructure delays as workers transition to other modes of transportation, including public transport.
Despite this, the groups acknowledged the urgency of addressing worker safety and committed to finding effective solutions, expressing the aim to “create a future where worker safety is never compromised, and all stakeholders can thrive.”
Some netizens express disappointment over the business groups rejecting the idea of banning the transportation of workers via lorries
On Singapore state media TODAY and the Straits Times‘ Facebook post, a heated debate has erupted among netizens, with some expressing their disappointment towards business groups rejecting the idea of banning the transportation of workers via lorries.
They argue that the true reason behind this rejection is a concern over costs.
While some claim there is no issue with ferrying workers via lorries, and point out that the real problem lies in the behavior of road users, particularly reckless driving by lorry drivers during peak hours.
One netizen called out the business groups, urged the groups to be transparent and admit that implementing safety measures would incur additional costs, instead of hiding behind noble-sounding reasons.
A netizen questioned whether migrant workers’ lives are considered less valuable due to their lower educational background and origin from third-world countries.
The netizen passionately argued that these workers have the same rights to safe transportation as anyone else.
Some blamed the behaviour of road users
Meanwhile, some comments blamed the behaviour of road users, particularly insinuating that accidents were caused by the lorry drivers themselves, thus dismissing the need for safer transportation for workers.
Netizen reminds the fundamental difference between lorries and buses
However, others refuted these notion, countering that advocating for migrant workers to be transported by buses is primarily about offering better protection in the event of a traffic accident.
One netizen pointed out the fundamental difference between lorries and buses, stating that lorries are designed for transporting goods, not people.
Due to their open back and lack of weight balance, a fully loaded lorry has a significantly higher chance of toppling over compared to a properly built bus.
While the business groups warned of potential societal consequences, including increased traffic and commuter congestion, one netizen ridiculed the sudden expertise of the business group in dealing with traffic jams.
Meanwhile, others suggested that business persons could alleviate the congestion they are concerned about by opting not to drive cars on the road.
A comment raises a valid question: if companies in non-construction sectors can provide bus services to transport their workers to and from work, why are construction companies allowed to ferry their migrant workers via lorries?
Netizen raises concerns over challenges of implementing safer worker transport
A netizen expressed his opinion on the challenges of ferrying workers by buses, sharing his experience running a landscape company with 3 lorries transporting 10 workers daily, with a slim profit margin of 3-5%.
He emphasized that purchasing 3 buses would double transport costs and incur additional expenses for drivers, leading to potential operational issues.
Despite this, he advocated for worker safety and proposed solutions, including subsidizing buses, offering driver hiring rebates, and providing more affordable parking.