This has long been a problem which the governmnet has shown little interest in attending to. Perhaps the government sees it as a private matter between employers and employees. To do so, however, is to ignore the power imbalance between the parties largely created by Singapore’s regulatory system for foreign labour and the demands by the authorities that dormitory-based migrant workers should be transported to work (and back to the dorms) by the employer. Once the government directs that workers should rely on employer-provided transportation, then the government also takes on the responsibility for ensuring that the standards of transportation are safe and humane.
In response to an issue highlighted in the Straits Times, TWC2 president Debbie Fordyce wrote to the editor of the Straits Times and her letter was published on 19 January 2022 (link)
19 Jan 2022
Straits Times Forum
The Straits Times report focusing on workers sleeping at Woodlands MRT station highlights a common experience (Having a shut-eye at Woodlands MRT station before their shift starts, Jan 17).
Many workers are taken to their worksites way ahead of the time they start work, and/or are picked up long after they have finished working.
This is due to the limited number of transport vehicles that companies use to ferry workers to and from the worksites.
Most of these men endure long hours of physical labour.
The little time they have to sleep and relax is further taken up by having to leave the dormitory hours before work, and to wait hours for the transport at the end of their shift.
It is no wonder that they take any opportunity to nap wherever and whenever they can.
Transient Workers Count Too has argued before that exhaustion is a factor in accidents that can lead to injury or death among migrant workers in the construction sector.
Insufficient sleep due to long hours of work, a long wait for transport to and from work and long journeys are factors contributing to this.
Staying close to residential areas would allow more workers to use public transport and allow them to reach worksites on their own.
Staying in remote dormitories presents transportation problems for employers.
Buses and minivans ought to be the main mode of transport, and they need to be provided, rented or purchased in sufficient numbers to allow employers to ferry workers safely and with due respect for their dignity and their need for rest.
Deborah Desloge Fordyce
Transient Workers Count Too
In July 2014, we wrote about a group of construction workers taken out of their beds in the wee hours of the morning, well before the start of their work shift. They too had nowhere to catch up on needed rest but to lie down on cold floors of public areas. The matter was first reported to TWC2 by a concerned citizen who saw the men wet from rain. See the story: Singaporean concerned about workers with nowhere to sleep/
It will strike readers that seven years on nothing has really improved.
Here is the recent article in the Straits Times (link) that surfaced the issue to which TWC2’s president responded in her letter. There are photos in the original news story.
17 Jan 2022
By Zaihan Mohamed Yusof
Commuters at Woodlands MRT station would have noticed more than 20 people sleeping on benches and along a walkway there between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The adults, mostly men, were also spotted on the fringes of the station, sleeping along a pavement and a closed road, and next to heavy machinery with wheels, sparking safety concerns among some passers-by.
Speaking to The Straits Tmes, Mr Robert Lim, 29, a production supervisor who lives in Woodlands, said: “It is quiet by the time I leave the bus interchange for home at 11.30pm. The authorities should look into the safety of the people who sleep at the side of roads, especially near the equipment.”
As it turned out, half of those sleeping in the area were foreign workers resting before starting work there, while the others were rough sleepers.
Responding to queries, a spokesman for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said there was night work to erect noise barriers on the tracks between Woodlands MRT station and Marsiling MRT station, and pointed out that the workers have proper accommodation to return to after work.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said the installation of the noise barriers started at the end of 2020 and is expected to be completed by the middle of this year.
“Since the beginning of works for this sector, a sheltered space behind Woodlands station has been designated for the workers to rest while waiting for works to commence,” said an LTA spokesman.
“We have since reminded our contractor to ensure their workers’ welfare and safety by getting them to make use of the designated rest area and to observe prevailing safe management measures at all times.”
When ST visited the station early this month, the workers had reverted to resting in the designated area.
Over seven visits to the station last month, ST observed them arriving between 11pm and 11.30pm in mini-lorries and staking out various resting spots.
They would then sleep on cardboards and plastic sheets, with their hard hats and safety boots next to them.
When the train service ended at around 1am, they would rouse themselves and enter the station to begin work.
One worker, who declined to give his name, said: “What choice do we have? (Our) boss say come early, we go to the station early.”
Due to the nature of the work at the station and the need to ferry other workers elsewhere, LTA said this particular group had to be dropped off at the Woodlands location earlier.
Said its spokesman: “As works are in close proximity to an operational MRT line, they can only be carried out at night after train services end. Due to transport arrangements across multiple worksites, workers assigned to this site are usually ferried to the site slightly earlier, before works commence.”
MOM has taken employers to task when it finds workers sleeping rough.
Between 2019 and 2021, it fined and warned 20 employers for failing to provide proper housing for their workers who were found to be sleeping rough.
It also warned 64 workers against sleeping in the open during the same period.
Said the MOM spokesman: “In the past few years, the vast majority of work pass holders found sleeping rough had proper accommodation but still chose to sleep in the open. They were warned not to do so as this compromises their safety.”