Workers should not be held responsible for the climate crisis — instead, it is “the elites” who failed to take “ethical considerations” in their “relentless search for profits”, said a delivery rider and member of SG Climate Rally (SGCR) Yi Hung.
In conjunction with Labour Day, the SGCR hosted an open meeting on 1 May via Zoom with workers and civil society members to speak on the importance of labour rights in climate action.
Mr Yi was among the speakers featured in the SGCR’s open meeting, which follows the organisation’s petition to call for better rights for ride-hailing app drivers and food delivery workers.
The petition was signed by 19 organisations accompanied by over 2,000 individual signatures. SGCR noted that it has submitted the petition to the Ministries of Finance, Transport, Manpower, Environment and Sustainability, as well as the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
Other speakers include editor-in-chief of Wake Up Singapore Sean Francis Han, former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong, representative of advocacy group MaidforMore Nessa, online activist Ripon Chowdhury, and co-founder of informal environmental group LepakInSG Ho Xiang Tian.
From the perspective of a delivery rider in Singapore, Mr Yi stressed that it is “the elites” that should be held responsible for the climate crisis, not the workers.
“The elite, the 1%, it should be them that pays for it. The climate crisis was greatly worsened by the way the global elites embraced free-market fundamentalism. In their relentless search for profits, they threw every ethical consideration out of the window,” he said.
Mr Yi pointed out that climate change was not caused by the working class, as workers were only trying to “make an honest living”.
“This holds true for even workers in the pollutive industries; they are just trying, at the end of the day, to make an honest living. They don’t decide what the industry produces, it is the bosses that make the choices,” he remarked.
Citing The Guardian’s article published in July 2015, Mr Yi noted that American multinational oil and gas company ExxonMobil had funded “climate change deniers” over the course of 27 years despite knowing the impact its activities would have on the climate.
“In July 2015, The Guardian published an article on how ExxonMobil knew the impact its activities would have on the climate, as far back as 1981. Despite this, the company still spent over $30 million funding climate change deniers over 27 years.
“If the state is serious about fighting climate change, they should make these people pay instead. Fossil fuel companies should be taxed on the decision they make that creates the climate crisis,” he added.
Given the climate crisis’ precarious effect on workers, Mr Yi believes that workers should be provided with “some income guarantee” so they will not risk their lives and limb in “apocalyptic conditions”.
“Any delivery rider can tell you how important the weather is for our work. The weather makes the job harder and more dangerous, due to the vehicle we use, such as bikes and e-bikes.
“As work is commission-based, there’s a debate in the mind of the rider on whether or not to go out there and risk for one more job, especially when the companies are offering more earning per job during bad weather,” he noted.
Workers should be involved in policy-making, says former NMP Anthea Ong
The Government’s announcement of a petrol duty hike was shocking to many, and the most baffling part was that the policy premise runs contrary to policy studies on fuel price changes in the short run, but the economic burden on working-class is long-running, said Ms Ong.
“Notwithstanding the rebates extended to cushion the hike, this is a deafening reminder that we must make sure that our climate policies and actions do not end up widening further social inequality by disproportionately penalizing those who are making an honest living yet contributing the least to our carbon emissions,” she noted.
Ms Ong believes that this can be done by involving the working class in policy-making.
“The SG Green Plan 2030 announced during Budget 2021 is a whole-of-nation movement to advance Singapore’s national agenda on sustainable development. Even though I think we could be bolder with our goals, I was thankful for the multi-agency intention to reframe the climate crisis as a systemic effort.
“Unfortunately, the agencies that represent our workers and vulnerable communities were glaringly missing from this multi-agency list,” she added.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) should be “co-creating” and “co-leading” in the SG Green Plan 2030, said Ms Ong, pointing out that the green plan cannot just focus on building plans and the economy without integrating social and labour goals.
“MOM could entail clear plans for workers to acquire green skills beyond just making new jobs. MSF can make a policy shift that can lift families from policy. MSF must consider the undignified plight of workers in the back of lorries and push for cleaner and safer transport options now rather than later,” she noted.
In addition, Ms Ong suggested providing more protection for self-employed individuals and urged NTUC to step up with “a deliberate strategy” to address the impact of climate change on all workers.
“The NTUC chief made a quote in 2019 saying: ‘Workers must be at the heart of policymaking’. he was talking about SG 4.0, but this should be for climate policymaking too,” she added.
Ms Ong also called on Singaporeans to do their part by joining organisations like SGCR.
“We can join groups like SGCR to volunteer and speak up for our workers and other vulnerable groups. Push ourselves to go beyond just staying in a single group or cause to embrace intersectionality, so we can truly have a chance to change the system,” she noted.
Nessa: Both migrant domestic workers, gig economy workers fall under commodified labour system
Representing advocacy group for migrant domestic workers MaidforMore, Ms Nessa highlighted how gig economy workers and migrant domestic workers fall under a system called “commodified labour”.
She explained that commodification among migrant domestic workers occurs based on the extent of control that the employers have over basic freedoms, such as their inability to leave their workplace freely or to switch employers.
Ms Nessa noted that migrant domestic workers are excluded from Singapore’s Employment Act, resulting in employers and employment agencies having a “disproportionate say” in deciding their working hours and living conditions.
“These are the very conditions that led to the torture and death of domestic worker Piang Ngaih Don at the hands of her employer in 2016,” she added.
As for commodification among gig economy workers, Ms Nessa explained that such a system appears as their forms of work being “completely disregarded” as vital and legitimate sources of livelihood.
She added that delivery riders and private hire drivers are also not protected under the Employment Act.
“So the similarities in these conditions of precarity faced by migrant domestic workers and gig economy workers are striking, both are groups that face constant risk of death, sudden unemployment and work-related accidents, not to mention violence.
“Supporters of the status quo of say, ‘A job is a job, these workers willingly enter into contracts that they agreed to’. But let us not gloss over the reality that the precarious nature of these jobs is designed to profit from the disadvantaged and those affected by poverty and the pandemic,” said Ms Nessa.
“Lorry was designed to carry goods, not transporting humans,” says Ripon Chowdhury
Online activist Mr Ripon, a Bangladeshi national, pointed out that the issue of employers transporting workers using lorries has actually been ongoing for “a long time”.
He was referring to the lorry accident on 20 Apr, in which the lorry carrying migrant workers to their worksite collided with a stationary tipper truck on Pan-Island Expressway (PIE). Two workers died in that accident and 15 others were injured.
Four days later, another lorry ferrying workers was involved in a road accident at Upper Bukit Timah Road on 24 Apr, resulting in 10 men being brought to the hospital for treatment.
However, Mr Ripon opined that the lorry drivers were not the ones to blame in such cases, adding that many do not know the challenges faced by lorry drivers in Singapore.
He shared that lorry drivers would wake up as early as 4.30 am to start working and do multiple trips to send workers. Most of them work for lorry companies specialising in transporting workers to workplaces.
At times, lorry drivers would finish work late at around 10pm.
“Lorry drivers would rush to send the workers to the workplace because if the workers clock in late, drivers will get in trouble. I feel that drivers do not get enough rest during the day and they still have a lot to do after returning to the dormitory,” he added.
What’s more, no safety precautions were prepared for transporting the workers.
“We should not just blame the drivers. The lorry is designed for carrying goods, not transporting humans,” he remarked, adding that most accidents occur in the early morning because workers would fall asleep at the back of the lorry.
He continued, “I hope that the Government can change the policy, and not putting the blame on lorry drivers.”
Sean Francis Han highlights the importance of intersectionality
Editor-in-chief of Wake Up Singapore, Mr Han highlighted the importance of intersectionality in activism in Singapore, a country where people were taught to compete against one another in “a supposedly meritocratic rat race”.
He remarked: “The greatest threat to any of our movements is alienation, and our greatest strength is collaboration.”
“We’re alienated from a society that neither respects the work that we do and who we are. Society tells us that the queer population needs to sit still and silent because the majority cannot and will not accept them.
“The global pandemic has only exacerbated the sense of alienation and isolation we all feel and I believe it’s imperative for us to try and reclaim our appreciation for the interconnectedness of all our work and resist in every way the forces of our times pulling us apart,” said Mr Han.
Workers’ rights have been an issue forcefully sidelined by corporations, as politicians and corporations band together to suppress human rights that threaten “the accumulation of their personal wealth”, he said.
“The fact that workers in Singapore were made to bear the brunt of the climate crisis is not yet another isolated mistake from the establishment. It is a part of a broader frame that isolates causes in groups from one another, greenwashing and the state’s apparent support for climate activism are not real.
“If they involve silencing workers rights or supporting climate action as though it were an isolated issue, saving the planet is not saving the planet if it does so only for the ruling class,” Mr Han added.
Ho Xiang Tian: Govt should impose tax on fossil fuel companies, instead of introducing petrol duty hike
Informal environmental group LepakInSG’s co-founder and engineering student at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), Mr Ho stressed that it is important to tackle climate change, but without adding more burden to workers.
The Government had earlier introduced a petrol duty hike, the reason being that “usage-based tax has helped shape consumer behavior towards a more efficient use of fuel or environmentally friendly alternatives”.
Though Mr Ho acknowledged that the Government has good intentions in doing so, he noted that this would disproportionately affect those who use petrol for their livelihoods.
“Everyone will agree that climate change is an existential threat to Singapore, but who will agree that those who contribute the least should pay for mitigating climate change?” he added.
Mr Ho observed that the Government’s move seems to follow the “polluter pays principle”, which indicated that those who use petrol vehicles should pay the cost, but such principle ignores the fact that “true polluters” are not paying.
He pointed out that 15 per cent of emissions in Singapore come from transport and about one-third of these emissions come from petrol, which means that petrol accounts for roughly five per cent of the country’s emissions.
The petrochemicals industry, on the other hand, accounts for about 45 per cent of Singapore’s emissions.
“I am all for climate action and the polluter pays principle. But it has to be fair and not disproportionately affect people who contribute significantly less to climate change than corporations like Shell and BP and ExxonMobil,” said Mr Ho.
According to him, fossil fuel companies have been paying less than their fair share of taxes in Singapore, including Shell, which paid taxes equivalent to 2 per cent of its profit in 2019, while British Petroleum (BP) paid 6 per cent. ExxonMobil’s paid taxes are not publicly available.
“If Singapore wants to follow the polluter pays principle to mitigate climate change, we should start by taxing the fossil fuel companies the full 17 per cent of the corporate tax rate. The extra money, at least S$500 million a year, can help workers transition vehicles away from fossil fuels.
“The S$500 million is much more than the money the Government can get from the petrol hike. We could get much more from these two companies than taxing all petrol uses,” he added.