Construction firms welcome easing of rules on workers' housing
Builders like Kori Holdings heaved a sigh of relief yesterday at the lifting of a rule that had made restarting work on a project more cumbersome.
With the change, Kori - a multinational Singapore-based construction company - can deploy up to 80 per cent of its 200 workers without having to worry where they are being housed.
This is a major improvement from the 30 per cent under the previous rule, which required contractors to house workers for the same project at no more than 10 different premises.
Said Kori chief executive Hooi Yu Koh: "For the first time in months, I feel cautiously optimistic. We were struggling so this is a very significant fine-tuning of the rules. Most of my workers are eager to return to work as they can earn more money, and now I can redeploy them."
Kori's business has been hit hard by the stop-work orders at construction sites to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Even after the two-month circuit breaker ended on June 2, builders faced a slew of rules on physical distancing and mingling of workers.
The latest easing of the rules effectively removes one layer of checks, said Mr Hooi. "Before this, we needed approval for the workers, the sites, and the matching of workers to specific sites. Now, we need only approval for workers and sites."
Industry stakeholders said this particular restriction had been a sticking point for construction companies and many had been lobbying the authorities to ease up on it.
The rule had been tweaked a few times before it was completely removed yesterday.
Initially, the rule required workers on a project to be housed in no more than five different premises.
Mr Kenneth Loo, executive director of Straits Construction Singapore, said that at one point, he moved all his workers into a hotel to fulfil the accommodation rule.
It was near the end of a project and his company had to fork out the unexpected cost.
Given the experience, the 55-year-old said he understood how important the seemingly small tweak to the rules can be.
Mr Loo, a former president of the Singapore Contractors Association, also praised the Building and Construction Authority's decision to allow all smaller-scale projects that employ a relatively limited number of workers, such as lift maintenance and renovation work, to restart.
But challenges continue to loom for the construction sector, which contributed $17.8 billion to Singapore's economy last year, making up 4 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.
Besides the increased costs that companies may have to bear owing to slower work processes and the staggered transport arrangements for workers, some of their workers are also asking to return home after nearly four months of restricted movements.
The mandatory swab tests workers have to complete every 14 days could also be unfeasible as more workers return on site.
"Already, I'm seeing on the portal that some of the booking slots are full (but) I'm mindful of how difficult it is and I know how important it is for the community," Mr Hooi said.