Corporate Wellbeing Asia 2023
"Lorries are not meant to transport passengers": NTUC ASG Melvin Yong on migrant workers' safety

"Lorries are not meant to transport passengers": NTUC ASG Melvin Yong on migrant workers' safety

In further news, entry of Work Pass holders to Singapore is being monitored, as current approvals have been rescheduled as well as reduced.

In a new blog post, Melvin Yong, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General, has called out the recent traffic accident where the lives of two migrant workers were lost, urging conversation around migrant workers' safety during transportation.

"Clearly these accidents, and their fatal consequences, show that trucks and lorries should not be used to transport workers. To put simply, they should be used to transport goods, not people," he stated.

Instead, he proposed the solution of using buses, equipped with seat belts. However, this solution does come with the added challenge around costs, to which ASG Yong highlighted: "Many are already reeling from the financial impact of the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, and the cost to purchase or lease a bus is substantial. Some worry that there may not be sufficient supply of buses to transport the over 350,000 migrant workers in Singapore."

As such, ASG Yong noted that NTUC and the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU) is engaging the Singapore Contractors Association Ltd (SCAL) to push for the implementation of separate transport arrangements for migrant workers. The Labour Movement is also engaging the relevant government agencies to address implementation issues.

"Simply put, we want our workers to get to their workplaces, and back home safely every day."

While tripartite negotiations are underway, he urged the parties involved (including employers) to explore the following interim safety measures, noted they "should be adopted immediately":

  1. Employers to hire a dedicated driver to transport their workers: This, ASG Yong, noted is a good practice as it eliminates the issue of worker fatigue. Citing The Straits Times' Christopher Tan, however, any of these vehicles are not driven by vocational drivers. There still exist many companies, especially those outside of the construction sector, that require their workers to double-hat as a driver after a full work shift – and this practice must stop.

  2. Drivers should be required to have a vocational driving license: This is along the lines of the requirement for bus drivers, taxi and private hire car drivers. This will ensure that drivers are familiar with the current road regulations and are aware of the responsibilities and safety issues when transporting passengers. Mandatory licensing also allows the authorities to screen and track drivers for any adverse driving records.

  3. Goods or passengers, there should only be one: ASG Yong called for proper safety standards governing the co-mingling of goods and passengers to be legislated. Under the Road Traffic Act, lorries and goods vehicles cannot be used for passenger transport, but an exception is made for those ferrying workers between their lodgings and worksites. However, the Act is silent on how equipment should be safely secured when passengers are on board the vehicle.

  4. Belt up and slow down: In the case that employers use lorries to transport their workers, he urges employers to secure the passengers with proper seat belts; as well as restrict the lorry’s travelling speed when transporting workers. Research shows that passengers in cargo areas are 7.9 times more likely to lose their lives in the event of an accident, as compared to front-seat passengers.

  5. Review the speed limit when passengers are on board: Under the Road Traffic (Regulation of Speed) Rules, goods vehicles are subjected to specific speed limits. Lorries, for example, cannot travel above 60km/h or the road speed limit, whichever is lower. However, a 2015 Swedish study, cited by ASG Yong, found that fatal accidents are less likely in cases where the vehicle is travelling below 40km/h. Thus, he asked for a  re-look at the travelling speed of lorries when workers are on board.

In looking ahead to potential solutions, ASG Yong urged the Government to help offset the financial burden employers will face when enhancing the transportation safety of migrant workers. Two of the suggestions he put forward are to perhaps exempt such buses from the Certificate of Entitlement, or an early adopter grant to incentivise employers to purchase or lease buses to transport heir workers.

Entry of Work Pass holders to Singapore: Approvals to be rescheduled as well as reduced

In view of the resurgence of COVID-19 cases and the emergence of new virus variants, the Singapore Government is reducing entry approvals for work pass holders (including for dependants of work pass holders), entering Singapore in the coming weeks. 

Further, for those work pass holders who have earlier obtained approvals to arrive from higher-risk countries/regions*, the following rules will apply effective 11 May:

  • Construction, Marine Shipyard and Process (CMP) work pass holders who have earlier obtained approval will be allowed entry as approved, except for a small group with planned arrivals in June who will be rescheduled to arrive in subsequent weeks.
  • Migrant domestic workers who have obtained earlier approval will be allowed entry as approved except for some with planned arrivals prior to 7 June who will be rescheduled to arrive in subsequent weeks.
    Other work pass holders who obtained approval to enter prior to 5 July will not be allowed to enter. We will inform employers on when to re-apply for entry when the situation has stabilised and will prioritise them for entry approval then.
  • In view of the need to reschedule the entry of work pass holders who had already obtained approval to enter, we regret that we will not be accepting new entry applications from higher risk countries/regions with immediate effect, except for workers needed for key strategic projects and infrastructural works who we will continue to allow entry.

*As of 7 May 2021, all countries/regions are referred to as "higher-risk", except for the following: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Mainland China, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao. 

As such, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will be reaching out to affected work pass holders and their employers on the changes to their entry.

However, the above changes will not affect work pass holders already given or are seeking entry approval to enter Singapore from lower risk countries/regions, under the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA), Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and other approved travel lanes.

On how long the reduced entries will last, the government is closely monitoring the local and global COVID-19 situation and will review the measures in place periodically.

Higher foreign worker levy rebates for 15,000 firms in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors

In additional updates relevant for employers, the Government will be providing a higher Foreign Worker Levy (FWL) rebate for the construction, marine shipyard and process (CMP) sectors. From May to December 2021, the FWL rebate for each Work Permit Holder in the CMP sectors will be increased from S$90 per month to S$250 per month.

The first round of the increased FWL rebate in May 2021 will be paid out in the following month. Employers can consider making use of the FWL rebate to retain existing workers and bring in Work Permit Holders from lower-risk countries or regions. The Government will decide closer to December 2021 if there is a need to further extend the FWL rebate.

The higher FWL rebate is part of a broader package of measures of support to the CMP sectors. For example, the Government has announced measures to provide further contractual relief for prolongation costs for Public Sector construction contracts and recently implemented measures to make it easier for employers to hire Work Permit Holders from the People’s Republic of China.

Overall, in view of the global COVID-19 situation, border control measures will remain tight to reduce importation risks. "These restrictions are likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future to keep Singapore safe," as shared by MOM.

Government agencies are currently working closely with the CMP sectors through the Industry Transformation Maps to transform their businesses and reduce manpower reliance. In these sectors, the number of Work Permit holders declined by nearly 60,000, or 16%. 

Photo / 123RF

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