MPs reiterate call to address foreign worker safety on lorries

The issue of migrant workers being ferried in lorries resurfaced in Parliament on May 11, 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The issue of migrant workers being ferried in lorries resurfaced in Parliament on Tuesday (May 11), with four MPs suggesting various solutions to improve safety and urging the Government to prioritise lives over economic costs.

They did so during a debate on proposed changes to the Road Traffic Act (RTA) that were unrelated to the safety of workers on lorries, a day after Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor responded to MPs on the issue.

Nominated MP Shahira Abdullah asked if the Government could relook how the Singapore Armed Forces has been transporting soldiers and look at adapting the changes made by the SAF for migrant workers.

She said: "I am cognisant that changes may incur more financial costs to the construction industry. But how do you determine the value of human lives?"

She also called for greater regulation, enforcement and penalties for errant goods vehicles and companies, especially for speeding.

On Monday, Dr Khor had said the Government will review the matter. But she noted that proposals such as installing seat belts on lorries and using vans were studied by a work group more than a decade ago and continue to have operational constraints.

Using vans could create driver fatigue as more trips would be needed made to move workers from one site to another, she said.

Meanwhile, retrofitting seat belts on lorries will not work because lorry designs are not suited for this, and rear deck floorboards may not be strong enough to keep seat belts anchored in a crash.

On this point, Dr Shahira argued the fact that lorries are not built to withstand the forces needed to hold the seat belts reinforces the point that they are not safe for carrying people. Workers may also fall sleep while being transported and may not be able to react, she said.

Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa proposed repealing an exemption in the RTA allowing for workers to be transported using goods vehicles, and instead mandating that workers be transported only in vehicles with passenger seats.

Ms Poa and Ms He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) suggested tapping under-utilised tour buses.

Mr Melvin Yong (Radin Mas) reiterated proposals he made over the weekend, including exempting buses used to transport workers from needing a Certificate of Entitlement.

Responding, Dr Khor said the Government shared these concerns, but cannot ignore the fact that injury and fatality rates involving people on board lorries have come down over the last decade after various measures were implemented.

She revealed that in the first four months of the year, the Land Transport Authority issued 227 notices of offences arising from transporting workers in goods vehicles, including lorries.

Dr Khor did not specify what the breaches were, or to whom the notices were issued, but used the figures to illustrate the stepped up enforcement to ensure the safety of lorry drivers and passengers.

She added that besides cost considerations, any additional measures have wider ramifications, including on livelihoods for both local and migrant workers.

"While it is clearly not just about costs, to argue as though cost does not matter at all is not practical and does not gel with reality," Dr Khor said.

"What we have been striving to do is to preserve the safety of workers and, at the same time, ensure they can continue to have their jobs - and for the migrant workers, this is the very reason why they are here."

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