Some people who felt strongly about the issue for safe transport for workers started Project Humane Transport in 2009 to raise support for change. The media reported on migrant workers and decent transport, especially when accidents took place. Quite a few people wrote to the press to put forward their views.
A former National Serviceman man wrote to TWC2 to respond to the argument that since NS men are transported in lorries, therefore it is okay for migrant workers to be carried in lorries too. The letter was published in the May-June 2009 issue of TWC2’s newsletter to members:
Letter from a Reader: Safe Transport for Workers
I have read about the topic of unsafe transportation of migrant workers on the back of trucks and I would like to share a little points that you could ponder upon before listening to what many might state is no issue at all. Firstly, consider that there is already a complete ban on transporting people on the back of trucks by some countries. Britain and Bahrain have issued this ban completely. 30 out of the 50 states of the US issue some restriction on how people are ferried on trucks. Secondly, consider the feasibility of the alternative, namely buses. I will quote here: “Mr Neo Tiam Beng, president of the Singapore School and Private Hire Bus Owners’ Association says that the operators who run some 4,000 private buses for hire here have the capacity to provide transportation to foreign workers.” (taken from http://motoring.asiaone.com/Motoring/Motorworld/Story/A1Story20090522-143033.html)
Vehicles can be used more efficiently with more persons being transported. Initially, switching over from lorries to buses for transporting workers might cost more but could be decreased in the longer run. Alternative transport types could be improvised. These are two alternatives:
- Class 4 lorries with a built-in 8 seater-cabin. This modification isn’t difficult to construct. The use of larger lorries will ensure that only more skilled drivers are employed: it takes more skill to handle class 4 vehicles. The more stringent and sparing issuing of class 4 licenses could also ensure that drivers be more careful not to jeopardize their licenses. There could be some parking issues as these lorries: 2-axle ones cannot be parked in normal URA car-parks but only in those designated for Heavy Vehicle Parking.
- Adding a compartment to the normal-sized 14-foot lorries, could probably mean fitting an additional cabin size for an additional 3 men, and this translates to a total of 4 passengers and one driver. The luggage space left would be that of the length of the normal pick-ups but with slightly longer dimensions for the width. This could prove limited. A structural change of retailers transporting the goods would translate into different retail and marketing strategies for raw materials. Retailers providing the delivery could set a shorter credit term than the usual 30-day one now presently in use. One serious consideration for the current system of transporting workers is that the limit on the number of workers is given but it does not specify adequately what is unsafe. If workers are not seated on the floorboard but are in fact sitting on goods, doesn’t that alter number and safety considerations, for example? Thus to set a regulation of allocating a space of 0.33 sq m2 per passenger becomes virtually meaningless. I have read several blogs on this issue and these mostly demonstrate Singaporeans’ prejudice against foreign drivers. The drivers could well be Singaporeans too.
I wonder why Land Transport Authority (LTA) did not mandate the same rules as Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) did for their trucks, land-rovers and official vehicles. A strict 50 km/h speed limit, built-in clocking device when a vehicle travels more than 55 km/h for more than 10 seconds (the points add up and these are by no means bonus points!), having their headlamps on at all times and (this should work) non-negotiable prison sentences for any accident unless it’s entirely not the driver’s fault even one per cent.
A new look into insurance coverage of the workers on their way to work should also happen.
Lastly when considering the difference between transporting workers on the backs of lorries and army personnel on military vehicles, one should take into account the following:
a) Military vehicles have sturdy chassis.
b) The backs of the military trucks are all fully covered with canvas protecting the passengers from the elements. The chassis includes a backrest.
c) Army personnel must wear their helmets and these must be strapped up tightly.
d) Personnel must either sit on the benches or on the floor. They are not allowed to sit on equipment. Those sitting on the benches must sit properly, while those sitting on the floorboard must sit facing the tailboard.
e) All goods must be secured and placed on the floorboard. For equipment required on the move, these must be secured in definite approved standards.
f) Soldiers are not allowed to sleep in the vehicle.
g) A senior personnel member must sit at the back of the vehicle nearest the tailboard.
h) The most senior personnel member acts as the Vehicle Commander, sitting beside the driver. He could be equally responsible for any incident along the way.
i) Proper logging of route details prevents the misuse of the vehicle and logs any incident along the way.
j) Designated routes have been spelled out for use by SAF military vehicles. These are usually roads with less traffic that link the various army camps and training areas.
k) Front headlamps are turned on all the times with the exception of during night deployment exercises in training areas.
I find it difficult even conceiving how a comparison of ferrying workers on lorries to army personnel can be made given the stringent regulations on the latter mode of transportation. I hope my brief sharing has shed more light on the transport issue.