SINGAPORE – New rules to improve the well-being of workers who are ferried in lorries will kick in on Jan 1, 2023, with rain covers a must-have for the vehicles.
If the driver happens to be a worker too, he must get at least half an hour of rest before he sends the other workers back to their dormitories to ensure safety.
But a related measure announced in March to install speed-management devices on these lorries has continued to stall, with Traffic Police consultations still ongoing.
The moves, announced by the authorities on Wednesday, provide a clearer timeframe and more details for measures that Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor had set out in Parliament in March.
During a visit to a construction site in Kranji on Wednesday, Dr Khor said the new measures are “practical and xeffective and can be readily and widely implemented on the ground”.
However, migrant worker groups said the moves do not address the core issue that transporting workers on lorries is unsafe. In 2021, two lorry accidents that led to two workers’ deaths and injuries to more than 20 others prompted advocacy groups to call for workers to be transported in buses and vans instead.
At least one rain cover, which is a waterproof canvas tarp, should be transparent to let light in. Since most lorries already have covers installed, aside from at the rear, almost all employers will be installing this transparent piece at the rear. This should take between one and two hours to set up and cost from $200 to $700, depending on the size of the lorry and the sheet.
As for workers who are also lorry drivers, from Jan 1, 2023, they will have to rest for at least 30 minutes before driving – if they have worked six hours or more on-site.
Employers must designate a “vehicle buddy” who will check if the driver is fit to drive and make sure he remains alert while driving.
Dr Khor said these measures have taken a while to hammer out due to operational complexities. There continues to be no timeline for the implementation of speed-management devices as the Traffic Police are still working with experts and motor shops, she added.
She told reporters: “They are looking at the supply of speed limiters, the effectiveness of the different speed limiters, as well as the number of workshops authorised to install the speed limiter.”
Asked if the authorities are still looking at other measures such as installing seat belts on lorries or transporting workers in buses, Dr Khor cited practical constraints.
“To install the seat belts may affect the structural integrity and stability of lorries and pose danger or risk to the drivers and passengers. The dealers and workshops have also told us that modifying the vehicles could lead to potential liability issues, such as the voiding of warranty,” she said.
“In terms of buses, there is a mismatch between the needs of companies and transport operators in terms of time, location, frequency, capacity and the adequacy of bus drivers and the number of buses. We continue to encourage companies to use alternative forms of transport, including buses, as much as possible.”
Mr Quek Hong Peng, second vice-president of The Singapore Contractors Association and managing director of construction firm Quek & Quek Civil Engineering, said rain canopies will be installed on all his firm’s 13 lorries within two months.
He wants to keep using lorries as they can transport both workers and goods. He ruled out bus pooling as every work site has a different end time, adding that lorries are more suited for the small groups of seven or eight workers that he deploys to individual sites.
“For the vehicle buddy, I will choose the driver’s best friend so they can talk to each other to stay awake,” Mr Quek said.
Workers sheltering themselves from the rain in Thomson Road in 2009. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Dr Stephanie Chok, executive committee member of non-profit organisation Transient Workers Count Too, said the new measures are “grossly inadequate”.
“Yes, drivers must be well rested… But this is different from calls to make transport safer for migrant workers because sitting on the open cargo deck of lorries is an inherently unsafe way to travel,” she added.
“If we value human lives like we say we do, then we need to commit to a timeline and direct resources to make sure workers are transported safely in buses at some time in the future.”