Budget debate: Lorries ferrying workers to be equipped with speed management devices

MOM will also introduce new rules to make sure drivers ferrying workers, especially those who also work onsite, get enough rest. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - All lorries ferrying workers will now be equipped with speed management devices and must have a designated person in the vehicle who can stop the driver if he is driving in an unsafe way.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will also introduce new rules to make sure drivers ferrying workers, especially those who also work onsite, have enough rest. This is on top of existing regulations that cap working hours to 12 hours a day and up to 72 overtime hours a month.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor on Wednesday (March 9) announced these new measures to better protect workers being ferried in lorries, while reiterating the difficulties of transporting all workers in buses.

She was responding in Parliament to Labour MP Melvin Yong (Radin Mas) who, along with other advocates, has been asking if it was possible to do away with transporting migrant workers by lorries altogether.

The new speed limiter rule for lorries extends such devices to the last lorry category currently not mandated by law to have them - lorries with a maximum laden weight exceeding 3,500kg.

Those with a lower maximum laden weight already must have speed warning devices, while heavier goods vehicles with maximum laden weight exceeding 12,000kg must be equipped with speed limiters.

Dr Khor did not say what the speed limit will be for these new lorries. The Traffic Police are working with the industry and more details will be released later, she said.

In addition to new manpower and speed laws, Dr Khor also said all lorries used to ferry workers must be fitted with rain covers, which are waterproof canvas tarps, to protect the workers against inclement weather.

She, however, maintained the ministry’s position so far on transporting workers in buses, citing how smaller companies that hire workers said they have to transport a small crew with bulky equipment to several locations in a single day. Lorries remain the most efficient vehicle for this dual purpose, she said.

Private bus operators also said there were simply not enough buses and drivers to transport the more than 280,000 workers employed in the manufacturing and construction and marine sectors.

“A full transition to buses could require a doubling or even tripling of the number of large private buses in the industry today. Even if multiple and staggered trips are made, the demand for buses will still be significant,” said Dr Khor.

“Furthermore, the bus operators shared that the shortage of bus drivers would be an even more binding constraint.”

Dr Khor did not rule out a future where all workers will be transported by buses.

“These challenges are not all insurmountable, but we will need time to work through them with the industry and relevant agencies,” she said.

“We encourage more in the industry (to use buses). We will facilitate the sharing of best practices, and will study the conditions for success to enable more companies to make the shift.”

Some firms have already shifted away from using lorries for some projects.

Tong Tar Transport, a multinational construction company, has ferried about 3,000 workers between dormitories and construction sites via buses - an endeavour that required various bus operators to work together, even during a season when tourism levels were down.

When asked by The Straits Times, Mr Yong said speed limiters on lorries is an important interim safety measure that he has been calling for, but the authorities can do more. 

He said that, by using technology to better match demand and supply, one bus could ferry workers from different dormitories to multiple worksites at different times in the day. 

This could help overcome the constraints in private bus supply that Dr Khor cited, he added. 

“I hope that the ministry will consider conducting proof of concept trials to examine if the technology is mature enough to achieve this.”

He also addressed a point made by Dr Khor that consultations with motor dealers and workshops have revealed fitting seat belts on lorries to not be feasible. 

Responding to Dr Khor, who said the floorboards in lorries might not be strong enough to keep the seat belts anchored in the event of an accident, Mr Yong said Singapore should work with top lorry manufacturers to import lorries that come already equipped with seat belts in the rear decks.

“In the longer term, LTA can consider revising its lorry homologation process so that only those that can allow for seat belts to be installed can be sold in Singapore. By doing so, we can gradually refresh our lorry fleets without imposing additional costs on business owners,” he said. 

Dr Stephanie Chok, executive committee member of non-profit organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), reiterated that transporting workers on the back of lorries is highly unsafe and have led to serious injuries and deaths.

“Adding a speed limiter is not going to eliminate how dangerous this mode of transport is,” she said, noting that workers have been flung out of lorries or crushed by heavy equipment that they are being transported with. 

She called on the authorities to set concrete commitments for the transition to buses with clear and reasonable deadlines.

“This dangerous and discriminatory mode of daily transport, which risks life and limb for thousands of migrant workers, has been going on for too long,” she said.

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