Ms Hazel Poa (Non-Constituency Member): Mr Speaker, Sir, section 126(1) of the Road Traffic Act prevents goods vehicles from being used to transport passengers, but subsection (a) allows an exception for workers to be carried on a goods vehicle owned or rented by their employer if they meet the rules prescribed under section 77(6). I propose to add a provision to the Bill to repeal section 126(1)(a) of the Act and to mandate that workers can only be transported in vehicles with passenger seats.
In July 2010, a Parliamentary Question was asked of the Minister for Transport to consider legislating that employers must transport their workers in buses. The Minister replied that we should allow the measures to improve workers’ safety on lorries to take effect and study their effectiveness before concluding that they are insufficient and going for a ban.
These measures – fitting lorries with canopies and side railings, increasing the deck space per seated worker – have been in place for 10 years. Despite these vehicle-related safety measures, driver-related measures, enforcement and penalties and public education, we are continuing to see fatalities and injuries from workers being transported on lorries.
The Workplace Safety and Health Act imposes a duty on employers to take reasonably practicable measures to ensure the safety and health of persons at work. Employers facing environments, such as working at heights, lifting operations and operating heavy machinery, must put in place safety measures, and these have prevented needless injuries.
WSH 2028 vision works towards reducing Singapore’s workplace fatality rate to less than one per 100,000 workers by 2028, and a pervasive adoption of the Vision Zero culture where stakeholders are committed to preventing all forms of injury and ill-health at work.
It is clear that the current measures for transporting workers as passengers on goods vehicles is not enough and must be improved. The Government has taken strong action in the past in reaction to deaths that could have been prevented. After a fatal school bus accident in 2008, seat belts for small school buses were made compulsory in 2009. To cope with the increased cost, the Government gave out $22 million in financial assistance for small buses to be retrofitted with seat belts. We should now similarly prioritise human lives over increased costs. Financial assistance for businesses with difficulties complying can be explored. We can also explore whether there is spare capacity in the form of tour buses now under-utilised that will make this a good time to implement new measures.
The workers affected are primarily migrant workers, who form one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. The neglect of their protection and welfare has long been a bone of contention in our society. Reactive responses only when death occurs in traffic accidents, domestic helper abuse or dormitory infections are not enough. The pandemic has shown us how choosing the easier or cheaper path can come back and bite us eventually.
It was announced yesterday that MOT will review this issue, taking into account all views and suggestions. Can MOT let us know how much time is needed for this review? Lives are at stake here and we hope for speedy action to be taken.
Further to the issue of safe transportation of workers, Progress Singapore Party would like to highlight that this would be a good time for a holistic review of all the areas related to the protection of migrant workers, for example, dormitory conditions, recruitment costs, job mobility and strengthening enforcement of breaches by employers.