Construction workforce shrinks for third straight quarter

The Government is bringing forward public-sector infrastructure projects to this year and next to provide relief to the construction sector, which saw the sharpest fall in workers in a quarter on record of 12,900.
The Government is bringing forward public-sector infrastructure projects to this year and next to provide relief to the construction sector, which saw the sharpest fall in workers in a quarter on record of 12,900.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The construction sector is in the doldrums, with the number of workers falling for the third consecutive quarter.

Preliminary data released by the Manpower Ministry yesterday showed the sector employed 12,900 fewer workers as of March, compared with December last year.

Those affected were mainly work permit holders, the ministry said.

Observers attribute the decline - the sharpest fall in a quarter on record - to a slowdown in construction projects. The falling numbers contributed to the drop in overall employment here of 8,500 workers.

Manufacturing continued to see negative figures as well, with a decline of 4,400 marking the 10th straight quarter of falling employment. There were more workers with jobs in the service sector at the end of the first quarter, however, with employment growth of 8,700.

To provide relief to the construction sector, the Government announced in this year's Budget that it will bring forward $700 million worth of public-sector infrastructure projects to this year and next.

Observers said this will help alleviate cyclical pressures from slowing private residential property construction.

The Government is also starting a $150 million Public Sector Construction Productivity Fund to bring innovative solutions to Singapore.

Singapore Contractors Association president Kenneth Loo does not expect the labour figures to improve this year, as the volume of jobs has dropped.

He said higher productivity may be another factor behind the shrinking construction workforce, with the Government requiring for many of its projects measures such as making designs more buildable and using methods where units are premade and assembled on site.

Some companies are trying to cope by having workers multitask and utilising all the lull periods in a day, said Goldfield Construction director Alfred Lim.

Mr Lim has had to let go of about 5 per cent of his foreign staff since the start of the year because of slow demand for new projects and high levies. "It's about survival, and keeping things moving so we don't lose the cash flow momentum."

Joanna Seow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2017, with the headline 'Construction workforce shrinks for third straight quarter'. Print Edition | Subscribe