Lifestyle

Designers devise hacks to improve migrant workers’ conditions

SINGAPORE – Designers from various disciplines including interior design, architecture and product development have been inspired to come up with concepts to improve the working conditions of migrant workers.

These ideas run the gamut from more comfortable seating for lorry commutes to on-site tentage for privacy and a reprieve from the sun and rain.

The designers are leveraging the latest thinking in ergonomics and empathic design – an approach centred on the end-user’s feelings towards an object or design.

“These are experimental concepts to spark further discussion and calls to action from the wider design community,” says Mr Jackie Lai, founder of interior design studio JIA Studios, which won the prestigious 2021 iF Design Award in Interior Architecture from Germany and the 2020 Singapore Good Design (SG Mark) Award.

“They have not been put through any feasibility tests as yet and are still a work in progress,” adds the 46-year-old.

The designers have seen how foreign workers are often ferried in the backs of lorries, seated on metal flatbeds designed to transport goods rather than human beings, and sitting in a corner of HDB void decks, huddled over lunch packs wrapped in brown paper and banana leaves.

There are some 1.5 million foreign workers, including foreign domestic workers, in Singapore.

According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), around 437,900 are employed in the construction, marine and process sectors. These include plants in the manufacturing of petroleum, petrochemicals, speciality chemicals and pharmaceutical products.

Safety standards and working conditions for these migrant workers are a contentious issue. Many Singaporeans think they are unacceptable, with some accusing employers of not wanting to shell out extra money to provide decent transport such as air-conditioned buses or vans, for fear that this would affect profit margins.

Debate intensified after 37 people, including migrant workers, were injured in two lorry accidents in July.

The issue is complex. Government agencies have been continually studying this to ensure that the transportation of workers is done as safely as possible, but some business owners – especially of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – say regulatory changes can drastically affect their livelihood.

In December 2022, MOM – together with the Ministry of Transport (MOT), Land Transport Authority (LTA), Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Building and Construction Authority (BCA) – rolled out the Interagency Advisory on Safe Transportation of Workers, which requires that drivers have sufficient rest, and enforced a “vehicle buddy” from Jan 1 to avoid accidents due to fatigue.

And in July, it was mandated that light and heavy lorries had to have rain covers to protect workers from inclement weather.

These vehicles must also have higher protective side railings, as well as observe lower speed limits and minimum space requirements to avoid overcrowding.

Heavy lorries will also have to install rain canopies by Jan 1, 2024.



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