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Tommy Koh exposes financial motive behind business groups’ opposition to ban on migrant workers transport via lorries

Tommy Koh, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-large, aptly exposes the financial motives behind business groups opposing the ban on transporting migrant workers via lorries.

He rebukes the business group’s fear tactics and urges equity in treating foreign workers with the same safety standards as locals.

Prof Koh’s statement has garnered praise from fellow netizens, with many commending his vocal stance on the matter.



SINGAPORE: Tommy Koh, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-large, has offered his insights in the recent debate surrounding the advocacy to prohibit the transportation of migrant workers on the back of lorries.

He has astutely pointed out that the primary motivation behind the opposition from over 20 business groups is, in fact, financial gain.

On Tuesday (1 Aug), a coalition of business bodies issued a joint statement where they cited “real, practical, and operational complexities” to excuse the elimination of transporting workers on the backs of lorries for safety reasons.

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.

Prof Koh: “not surprised” that the business groups opposing any change to the status quo

In a Facebook post published on Wednesday (2 Aug), Tommy Koh said he is “not surprised” that the business groups have issued a joint statement opposing any change to the status quo.

Prof Koh expressed his disappointment that Singapore is unique among affluent nations in permitting employers of foreign workers to transport them in lorries lacking proper seating and seat belts.

He stated that the business groups are relying on fear-driven tactics to advance their stance, and candidly highlighted that the core motive for their resistance is money.

“It will increase their costs of doing business if they are required to transport their foreign workers in vehicles with seats and seat belts.”

He implored Singaporeans not to be swayed by this campaign, underscoring the crucial principle that the lives of foreign workers are equally valuable as our own.

“Second, they should be treated in the same way as we treat ourselves. ”

“We require all persons to have seats and seat belts. This should be extended to our foreign workers. ”

Lastly, Prof Koh also served as a reminder that, as a First World country, it is incumbent upon us to discard outdated practices that are incongruent with our esteemed status and reputation.

National discourse emerges regarding the safety of workers transported by lorries

Recent concerns regarding the safety of workers transported by lorries have sparked a national debate in Singapore, leading to multiple statements issued by government and civil society organizations.

Amid intensifying pressure to impose a ban, seven Singaporean government agencies stressed the potential socio-economic repercussions in a joint statement issued on Wednesday (2 Aug).

The Transport Ministry, Land Transport Authority, Manpower Ministry, Building and Construction Authority, Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Home Affairs, and Singapore Police Force jointly noted that a ban could potentially force many businesses to close, resulting in job losses for both Singaporean and migrant workers.

The agencies agreed, advocating for alternative transport arrangements and stressing the need to retain the current exception under the Road Traffic Act permitting the transportation of workers in lorries.

The authorities also highlighted the reduction in accidents involving lorries over recent years, attributing this to safety measures such as requiring the front passenger cabin to be fully occupied before using the rear deck.

Their focus, they insist, is on evidence-based strategies addressing factors behind accidents, such as driving behaviours and vehicle speed.

Public scrutiny on this issue intensified following two lorry accidents in July, which resulted in 37 individuals, including migrant workers, being injured.

100 groups and individuals urged the Singapore government to immediately ban the practice of ferrying migrant workers on lorries

The accidents ignited a renewed call to halt the practice of transporting workers in lorries, with 100 groups and individuals endorsing two petitions over the last two weeks.

Over 40 organizations and individuals, including migrant worker welfare groups, jointly addressed PM Lee, Mr Chee, and Dr Khor, condemning the government’s response as theatrics and handwringing, devoid of necessary seriousness and urgency.

In another show of dissent, a coalition of 57 local civil society organizations and community groups issued a joint statement on 26 July.

They criticized the government’s approach as comprising of “feeble steps” and distractions. They underscored the inherent risks and dignity-compromising conditions of transporting people in lorries, vehicles not designed for human transport.

The 57-group coalition called for a portion of the foreign worker levy, amounting to at least S$1.1 billion dollars in 2020, to be allocated towards assisting smaller companies transitioning to safer transport alternatives.

They accused the government of disregarding the acute pain experienced by injured workers and grieving families thousands of miles away due to the current practices.

Tommy Koh’s notable remark garners praise from online community

Prof Koh’s statement has garnered praise from fellow netizens, with many commending his vocal stance on the matter.

Anthea Ong, former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), thanked Prof Koh for his advocacy on the issue.

Ms Ong, a signatory of the first petition, emphasized the need for redefining the issue with comprehensive stakeholder engagement, urging innovative thinking for progress beyond the current status quo.

Jack Sim, the World Toilet Organisation founder and NUS Business School Adjunct Associate Professor, concurs with Tommy Koh, criticizing the government’s unresponsive stance.

“I think such “bulldozing” of Public opinions is no more acceptable and will impact negatively on the coming elections if it is not addressed.”

Prof Sim urges the PMO to address the public outcry, holding a transparent meeting to find effective solutions.

Andrew Loh, co-founder of The Online Citizen, echoed the same sentiment, rebuking Singaporean ministers for seeming subservient to businesses.

He decries their lack of resolve, deeming it disgraceful that they align with these factions and offer excuses, jeopardizing countless workers’ daily commute safety.


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The labour suppliers have been allowed to earn monies at different levels from the workers. They pay for accommodation, food and transportation. Decades ago, the supplier delivers the workers to the actual employer who pays a commission to the supplier and takes over the housing, transportation and food for his workers. Usually the housing is on the site or nearby. There was never a need to transport workers in lorries as what is being done presently. The building of the dormitories which is claimed by many to be run by PAP grassroots, changed the system. It is money making for… Read more »

Local workers are not transported in lorries because they are supposed to transport themselves. Clean Wage and all that. Remember that our NS boys are transported all over the place in military trucks (used to be Mercedes Benz 3-tonners) driven by NS drivers.

But yes, the business groups are fear mongering for mainly financial reasons though there ARE practical reasons for doing so.

Maybe its times the workers all don’t board the pick ups and let the the projects come to a standstill the the govt will wake up I guess on life matters.

How can it be justifiable to endanger lives knowingly because taking proper safety measures will cost employers more? Migrant workers’ lives are no less valuable.

Do you have any idea what is First World