Renewed calls to stop transporting workers in back of lorries after latest accident

Several migrant worker groups in Singapore have expressed sadness about the death of one migrant worker and injury of other passengers after a lorry they were travelling in this morning (20 April) collided with a stationary tipper truck along the Pan Island Expressway. They have also urged for current transport practices of migrant workers to be addressed, highlighting the way these workers have been conveyed to and from work in the back of lorries.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) posted a video of the aftermath of the accident on Facebook with a caption that reads, “This is the reason why workers should not be transported at the back of lorries.”

In an e-mail response to TheHomeGround Asia about the accident, TWC2 President Debbie Fordyce notes that there have been numerous incidents where migrant workers are injured due to being transported in the back of lorries. 

She says, “Every other group in Singapore is required to have proper seating, often with seatbelts. This incident highlights the lower standards that we accept for migrant workers but would not tolerate for others.”

Ms Fordyce also suggests that ongoing police investigations examine whether the driver might have been working excessive overtime: “Colliding with a stationary tipper vehicle at pre-dawn hours could result from fatigue, rather than just carelessness.” 

(Source: Transient Workers Count Too / Facebook)

Posting on Facebook, It’s Raining Raincoats, a grounds-up initiative that aims to improve the lives of migrant workers in Singapore, wrote that it was “deeply saddened” to hear about the death of one of the passengers, a migrant worker. It also asked whether the driver might have been tired, which caused him to rear-end the truck parked along the road shoulder.

Earlier in the morning, it had shared a video of the crash site, which showed SCDF (Singapore Civil Defence Force) paramedics tending to injured workers lying on the ground: “Workers often travel in the back of lorries without seatbelts, and they are more prone to such accidents. We hope they will get all the medical care they need and be compensated for their injuries,” the post read. It also made a request to motorists: “If you see lorries with migrant workers at the back, kindly give way to them. They might be under time pressure to get to work or back, and they can use some compassion on the roads”

Another migrant rights group, Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics (HOME), posted on Facebook and Instagram wishing the injured workers “a speedy recovery” and that they receive “rightful compensation”.

Safety was also an issue that HOME highlights: “Goods lorries – especially open-top vehicles without passenger seats and safety belts – are unsafe and unsuitable for carrying passengers.”

It urges that while police investigations are being carried out, that the “broader context of unfairly hazardous working and transport conditions” are addressed. 

“Migrant worker drivers have told us they are overworked, driving up to 14 hours daily… 13 workplace deaths have been recorded so far this year: The iceberg-tip of hundreds of accidents and injuries… The safety of migrant worker road users should be taken as seriously as for anyone else.”

Local opinion leaders have also taken to their social media spaces to share their thoughts about the accident, including former Nominated Member of Parliament and Co-founder of A Good Space Anthea Ong and former Nominated Member of Parliament and Co-founder of The Thought Collective Kuik Shiao-Yin.

“Please don’t say that this is just an accident and dismiss it as another unfortunate accident!” laments Ms Ong on her Facebook page. “How are we still allowing our workers to be transported at the back of a lorry in 2021?”

While Ms Kuik writes that “it was an accident waiting to happen.” She asks, “Do we really want another one? How many more? Is this the one incident that will have us say, ‘I’m done. Enough of this.’?”

The police have arrested the 36-year-old driver for careless driving causing death. Seventeen passengers, from India and Bangladesh, were taken to the hospital, two of whom were unconscious. One worker, a 33-year-old Bangladeshi man, later died from his injuries. 

According to CNA, the Ministry of Manpower says that officers from its Assurance, Care and Engagement Group are working closely with the employer, reportedly Bright Asia Construction, and the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) to care for the affected workers. 

On its Facebook page, MWC says that as of Tuesday evening, nine of the injured workers were discharged from hospital after being treated for minor injuries, while seven are still warded in hospital. Two of them are in the Intensive Care Unit. 

As to providing compensation for the affected workers, MWC notes: “As the accident took place while the workers were en route to the worksite, they should be protected under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA). MWC will also be contacting the loved ones of the deceased to offer our sympathies as well as to extend interim financial assistance to the family as it will take some time for WICA to be paid out.”

MWC adds that members of the public who wish to help can donate to its charity arm, the Migrant Workers’ Assistance Fund.

In response to social media and Reddit posts about the accident, netizens have offered their well-wishes and support to the migrant workers involved in the crash. Many reiterated how bad they feel for migrant workers who have to travel unprotected in the back of lorries and open-top vehicles. Several suggested safer options like buses to transport migrant workers to and from their worksites. While others focussed on speeding as the problem and suggested that authorities clamp down on lorry drivers who exceed limits with harsher penalties.  

(Source: CNA / Facebook)
(Source: CNA / Facebook)

(Source: CNA / Facebook)

(Source: It’s Raining Raincoats / Facebook)
(Source: Reddit)
(Source: SG Road Vigilante / Facebook)
(Source: SG Road Vigilante / Facebook)

The issue of migrant workers being ferried in the back of lorries in Singapore is a longstanding one, and is often revisited after accidents happen. 

A statement in 2010 from TWC2 went so far as to call for Singapore to “ban the transport of people in the back of lorries or trucks,” suggesting instead that workers should be conveyed in buses or minivans equipped with safety belts.

“We realise that this will impose additional costs upon contractors, but consider that the toll in lost lives and injuries under existing arrangements could be significantly reduced by this means and that this consideration should come uppermost,” said TWC2.  “The long term savings by companies on costs caused by accidents, including those due to the death or injury of workers, will defray these expenses somewhat.”

A few years later in 2013, TWC2 renewed calls for workers to be transported in buses and not lorries after a pick-up crashed, causing injury to nine construction workers it was carrying.

“If they had been in a bus, it is unlikely that the passengers would have been flung out of the vehicle. There might still have been injuries, but most likely minor,” it said.

To enhance safety standards the Land Transport Authority (LTA) implemented more stringent penalties in 2011 for non-compliance with safety regulations for lorries carrying workers. Additional measures were also meant to have come into effect in 2011 and 2012, such as requiring that all lorries be fitted with canopies and higher side railings and doubling the minimum deck space requirement per seated worker to eight square feet for both light and heavy lorries, respectively. But it was reported in July 2011 that LTA would review the former requirement after industry stakeholders said that reducing the maximum passenger capacity may lead to operational constraints. An LTA spokesperson said then that the authority would assess the feedback while balancing the safety needs of workers.

According to One Motoring, an LTA website, the current minimum deck space requirement remains at four square feet per seated worker. The number of workers that can be carried is reduced if goods or equipment are also being transported. Based on this a Maximum Passenger Capacity, or MPC, is calculated for lorries carrying workers to and from the worksite, and a label must be displayed on the right side of the vehicle’s rear tailboard. The MPC for the lorry in Tuesday’s accident has not been reported yet. 

Join the conversations on THG’s Facebook and Instagram, and get the latest updates via Telegram.

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