Tuesday, 18 Jan 2022

Construction firms expect latest Covid-19 curbs by MOM to further delay projects

SINGAPORE – Companies in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors are expecting their projects to be delayed by a few months.

This comes after employers in these sectors were no longer allowed to make new applications for workers holding S Passes or work permits to enter Singapore via the vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs).

The latest curbs, announced by the Manpower Ministry last Saturday (Dec 4), will also apply to employers of other dormitory-bound work pass holders.

Singapore has imposed stricter measures on all travellers entering the country to detect Omicron, the new coronavirus variant. As at Dec 5, there were three imported cases who tested preliminarily positive for Omicron.

Companies that The Straits Times spoke to on Monday said it is difficult to plan the schedule for existing and upcoming projects as they are facing a shortage of manpower.

Ms Serene Pan, chief executive of Hitomo Construction, said it was previously trying to get about 10 workers into Singapore. “We had planned to employ more foreign workers via the VTL as they are able to enter Singapore quicker, but this plan has been disrupted.”

She added that with the latest curbs, 90 per cent of its upcoming projects are expected to be delayed by two to three months.

“There is nothing much I can do at this stage but to continue trying to apply for foreign workers via entry approval. Currently, existing work pass holders whose expiry dates are approaching are also asking for another round of pay rise, and we have no choice but to let go of a few of them as their asking pay is almost double their current salary,” said Ms Pan.

Mr Xu Changcheng, director of StarCity Construction, said it has been short of workers for almost a year.

He said: “The majority of our projects are on hold. We have already declined some inquiries on new projects.”

He added that three of its projects are expected to be delayed by three months to a year. “Currently, we get only small projects for the company to survive. Our clients are aware of the situation and they were very considerate to give us extensions to complete the projects.”

Singapore Contractors Association executive director Louise Chua said removal of the VTL option “translates into one less route for employers seeking entry for migrant workers into Singapore, compounding the challenges of the acute manpower shortage”.

She hopes the authorities will review and increase the quota of workers in view of the latest change, to ensure that workers can continue to enter Singapore through programmes with upstream testing or the Work Pass Holder General Lane.

Ms Chua said: “Additional costs of bringing in workers through these programmes will continue to be incurred, and we hope the Government can look into further support for contractors on this front.”

Mr Lam Yi Young, chief executive of the Singapore Business Federation, said: “Businesses hope that the VTL can be reopened to foreign workers soon or, failing which, the Work Pass Holder General Lane and ongoing industry initiatives can be further streamlined to facilitate the entry of foreign workers who are critical to operations.”

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Dr David Leong, managing director of human resources firm PeopleWorldwide Consulting, noted that stricter rules are needed to reduce risk of infection with the emergence of Omicron.

He said: “Dormitory situations in Singapore are more stable now under a tight controllable regime and any incoming workers from overseas add new risk to the pool, particularly with the Omicron strain.”

Also recognising the difficulties the companies face, he added: “With the additional costs plus having to pay more to retain workers, employers are really challenged on all fronts.”

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