Singapore—In an opinion piece, Mr Bhavan Jaipragas, the Asia Correspondent for the South China Morning Post (SCMP), admitted to having “mixed feelings” upon reading Bloomberg’s latest Covid-19 Resilience Ranking earlier this week.
On Tuesday (Apr 27), Bloomberg published an article entitled “Singapore Is Now the World’s Best Place to Be During Covid”. Mr Jaipragas, a Singaporean, wondered in his piece “if the city state’s army of migrant workers thought the same”.
While the Covid-19 outbreak that swept through migrant workers’ dormitories has caused the Government to improve living standards, migrant workers still suffer in many ways, including being brought to and from their workplaces in the back of lorries.
In the latter half of this month, two accidents occurred involving such vehicles, with the first one resulting in the deaths of two workers, and the hospitalisation of over a dozen others.
The second accident also sent 10 workers to the hospital.
Mr Jaipragas writes,“Singapore’s migrant workers deserve better than to be ferried like livestock”. He notes that the call to stop transporting migrant workers in the backs of lorries has been made over several decades, “but apart from some piecemeal changes, things have stayed the same”.
In 2010, an accident with three fatalities resulted in changes to make lorries safer by requiring higher side rails and canopies, and a sign of “maximum passenger capacity” was required to be written on the vehicles.
However, he adds that the two accidents this month, especially coming within less than a week from each other, has given rise to renewed calls for a change in how migrant workers are ferried to and from work.
Mr Jaipragas also noted that while those in construction claim that providing different vehicles for migrant workers will be much more expensive for their firms, “in all likelihood, the sector is alone in making that argument”.
He argues that in the same way Covid infections prompted changes to migrant workers’ living conditions, “the same must be done to end the travesty of people being transported like livestock in one of the world’s most modern metropolises.”
Netizens and activists have raised the same call over social media, with people such as actor and director Hossan Leong tweeting, “When will Ministry of Transport @LTAsg ban ppl from being transported like cattle? #MinistryOfManpower.”
The Wake Up, Singapore Facebook page posted a screenshot of Mr Leong’s post, tagging officials @s.iswaran and @tanseeleng to “please act now to regulate and ban the transportation of workers at the back of lorries”.
By May 15, Mr Iswaran will succeed Mr Ong Ye Kung as Transport Minister, while Dr Tan is to take over the Ministry of Manpower from Ms Josephine Teo.
Workers’ rights activist Kokila Annamalai wrote that “unsafe drivers” have often been blamed for the accidents. She also called for the public to rally around the issue.
“There can be no justice for the migrant workers who have died or been severely injured on our roads over the years because they were transported unsafely in lorries. But if no more workers are to be injured/die in this way, we – as people of Singapore – have to be prepared to make demands of our government and government-linked corporations in louder and bolder ways that we have so far.”
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