NTUC Assistant Sec-Gen: Lorries should transport goods, not people

They should be ferried in buses instead.

Joshua Lee | May 10, 2021, 07:30 PM

Migrant workers should not be transported in goods vehicles, said the Assistant Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), Melvin Yong.

Yong, in a May 9 blog post, highlighted a "perfectly viable alternative" for transporting migrant workers: Buses with seat belts.

The Road Traffic Act currently prohibits lorries and goods vehicles from being used for passenger transport except in the case of ferrying workers between their lodgings and worksites.

This issue of companies ferrying migrant workers in the back of lorries has been popping up over the years, most recently prompted by a traffic accident on the Pan Island Expressway which involved 17 migrant workers.

Two of them subsequently passed away.

Yong added that the NTUC is 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.

Suggested interim measures like securing workers in lorries with seat belts

In the meantime, Yong suggested interim safety measures to protect migrant workers, such as:

  • Making sure that employers hire dedicated drivers with vocational licences to drive workers around
  • Securing workers in lorries with proper seat belts
  • Restricting the lorry’s travelling speed when transporting workers
  • Clamping down on goods vehicles which speed on the road

Yong also acknowledged that it might be financially challenging for companies to purchase or lease buses to ferry their workers, especially when the country is caught in a prolonged Covid-19 pandemic.

He urged the government to offset the financial burden on employers who implement measures to improve transport safety, like procuring dedicated buses for ferrying workers.

He suggested exempting such buses from the Certificate of Entitlement, similar to how school buses are already exempted today, and providing an early adopter grant to incentivise employers to purchase or lease buses to transport their workers.

"I believe that this is a necessary price to pay to ensure the safety of the workers who have left their home country to help build our nation," he said.

Amy Khor: More regulation will cause “acute pain” to industry

Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Transport (MOT) Amy Khor said in Parliament on May 10 that:

"From a road safety perspective, it would be ideal for lorries not to carry any passengers in their rear decks."

However, she pointed out that there are "very significant practical and operational issues", aside from cost considerations.

Khor pointed out that several measures to improve safety were implemented more than a decade ago after the Land Transport Authority conducted a review on the safety of workers.

Measures that came out of the review include installing higher protective side railings and canopy covers, and legislating tougher penalties for non-compliance.

She added that more regulation today will cause "acute pain" to the industry, because it will affect the completion of various building projects like HDB BTOs, MRT lines, and hospitals.

It might even spell the demise of some companies, she said.

However, Khor said that the government will continue to review safety rules, engage various stakeholders, and remind lorry owners and drivers of the rules.

Top photo credit: MOM, itsrainingraincoats