Buildings in Singapore, Tuesday, January 3, 2023
An Indian manual worker successfully sued his employers in Singapore for negligence after falling from an overcrowded truck.migrant workersThis revived the debate over their treatment in the wealthy city-state.
Court documents show that Ramalingam Murugan, a 37-year-old father of three from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, broke his leg in 2021 when he got out of an overcrowded truck, which left him unable to work.
The accident caused him great pain, his lawyer Muhamad Ashraf Syed Ansarai told CNN.
"He was injured getting out of a crowded truck, which was a simple thing and involved risks," Ansarai said. "But it's not uncommon for companies, especially those in heavy construction, to take risk assessment for granted," he added.
Singapore, one of the richest and most developed countries in the world, has benefited greatly from its low-cost economy.foreign laborto the decade
Workers such as Murugan and others from countries in the region such as Bangladesh, China and Vietnam take on difficult and often dangerous jobs in the construction and maritime industries, sometimes working long hours.Extreme weatherand no minimum wage.
To get to work from dormitories on the outskirts of the city-state, they are transported in the back seats of trucks (often overcrowded and lacking passenger seats and seat belts), a common industrial practice that has led to countless accidents and worker deaths in recent years . years, and critics say it is an example of companies putting profits above life.
On April 21, 2021, a truck carrying 17 migrant workers to a job site collided with a dump truck on a highway, killing two men: Toffazal Hossain from Bangladesh and Sugunan Shudeeshmon from India. Both men were fathers and the sole breadwinners of their families.
In July, 26 men were hospitalized after three lorries, including two with migrant workers, collided on a major highway. Singapore Civil Defense Force (SCDF) officers used hydraulic rescue equipment to free two men trapped in the front seat of the vehicle.
A day later, another truck carrying at least ten workers collided with a car on the highway. Authorities said all workers were taken to the hospital to treat their injuries.
Migrant workers sit in the back of a truck in Singapore, May 15, 2020.
Labor rights organizations have called for the practice to be banned, which has been supported in the past by various government agencies.
"We know that transporting workers by truck is not an ideal solution, but we also understand the genuine concerns of employers," said Amy Khor, a minister at the Ministry of Transport, in response to questions put to Parliament on August 2. "Businessmen say that if the government imposes a ban, many companies, especially SMEs, will not be able to continue their activities," he continued.
"Our efforts will focus on improving the safety of all road users," added Khor.
"My ministry is working closely with relevant government agencies and industry associations to gradually implement a number of additional measures to improve the safety of our employees."
In response to a fatal accident in 2021, Khor previously said new regulations, such as a ban on transporting workers in trucks, would "probably affect" several construction projects for companies looking to cut costs in the country's region.recovery after pandemic.
“From a road safety point of view, the ideal solution would be for trucks not to carry passengers in the rear, but there are very important practical and operational issues that go beyond mere financial considerations,” said Khor.
The Murugan accident occurred on January 3, 2021.
Court documents obtained by CNN show that he was transported from his bedroom to his workplace in the back seat of a truck along with at least 24 other employees and was the fourth to leave the vehicle. It rained a lot.
Murugan testified that he was pushed by another worker who was rushing to get out of the rain, causing him to lose his balance and fall to the ground with all his might.
They took him to the hospital because the pain in his right knee was not going away.
He underwent surgery to break his leg and was on sick leave for about five months. "The injury prevented him from working," said Ansarai. "And even if he could, he wouldn't be able to do basic tasks because his knee injury caused him tremendous pain."
In 2022, he filed a lawsuit against Rigel Marine Services seeking A$100,000 (US$73,500) in damages.
She argued that the company had failed to establish and enforce a system of safe transportation for itself and other employees, and had failed to conduct a risk assessment to identify potential hazards.
Rigel Marine Services officials denied these claims, saying that Murugan's accident "was due to his own carelessness in not paying attention to his position before getting out of the truck." The company also filed a counter-suit for medical expenses and sick pay paid to and for Murugan.
A view of Singapore's subordinate courts.
However, on August 17, District Judge Tan May Tee ruled in favor of Murugan, stating that there had been a clear "dereliction of duty by the company".
"Without proper supervision and maintenance of order and discipline after disembarkation, the prosecutor was pushed by his colleagues, as a result of which he lost his balance and fell," Tan said.
She added that she found no negligence on Murugan's part and stated that there was no way he could have prevented the accident as the vehicle "was not designed to carry more than 22 people at the time".
“So I don't think there was a good and safe system for getting on and/or off the truck safely at the time,” says Tan.
The judge said the damages awarded to Murugan would be assessed at a later stage.
CNN reached out to Rigel Marine Services for comment. Lawyers said the company had no further comment following the legal proceedings.
In a statement released through his lawyer, Murugan stated that he "can't wait to get this case over with.
"I hope to receive reasonable compensation for the injuries I suffered greatly," he added.
He also expressed hope that his decision would inspire other employees like him.
“There may be workers who have been injured who do not seek compensation out of fear, [and] are sometimes told that making a claim will prevent them from returning to Singapore. I hope these workers will ask for help and ask for help."
"I also hope companies will pay more attention to worker safety because we are often told we have to do very risky work and sometimes we have no choice but to do the same," he added.
Migrant workers at a construction site in Singapore, May 3, 2023.
Singapore is home to around 1.4 million migrant workers, nearly a quarter of the population.
employees onI spoke to CNN earliershared concerns about living and working conditions, but many were reluctant to express their disapproval of plans such as road transport for fear of reprisal by superiors and authorities.
Collective statementThe document, signed by 47 organizations and citizens, said current security measures against migrant workers were "insufficient" and called on the government to ban HGV workers and mandate the use of buses.
"Recent tragic events have highlighted the continuing serious risks associated with transporting migrant workers by truck," the statement said.
"We are calling on the Department of Transportation to consider the safety of highway workers and set a timetable to ban this unsafe practice in the future."
"By communicating that we want to ban this dangerous practice... we can send a strong message of our commitment to the well-being of all employees in Singapore, regardless of their nationality or profession."
In response to media requests and questions, the Singapore Ministry of Transport (MOT) issued a statement on August 2 agreeing on the "importance of safety" but saying there were "mixed views" on the ban.
"Entrepreneurs and industry associations share the concern that if the government imposes a ban, many companies will not be able to continue their operations," the MOT said.
“In addition to financial costs, there are also structural and operational challenges, including the availability of alternative modes of transport.”
The ministry added that chartered buses "may be unsuitable for specialist trades" where small equipment "has to be transported to various locations along with equipment or goods within one day". The situation is exacerbated by the shortage of bus drivers in Singapore.
Still, victories for immigrant workers are rare, said local civil rights activist Jolovan Wham, and a situation where a worker has replaced a powerful employer is virtually unheard of.
"This ruling is an important milestone," Wham told CNN.
“This shows that the Singaporean government and its relevant agencies need to act urgently. Security regulations need to be made and safer transport made compulsory, and the government has been putting this off for years.”
His lawyer said Murugan was "relief" when the verdict was reached. "Since the accident, he has waited anxiously for two and a half years and returned to India," Ansarai said, adding that he "has recovered to some extent, but is still unable to work."
“In addition to his parents to support, he has three daughters and a wife. There was a lot of pressure on him."
He currently has no plans to return to Singapore.
"It just can't work like it used to anymore," Ansarai said.