Incentives for firms to send workers for safety training

Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan (in dark blue) visiting a worksite in Bukit Batok West Avenue 6 yesterday, accompanied by Mr Kenneth Loo (far left), president of the Singapore Contractors Association. Mr Tan announced that the discount on fore
Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan (in dark blue) visiting a worksite in Bukit Batok West Avenue 6 yesterday, accompanied by Mr Kenneth Loo (far left), president of the Singapore Contractors Association. Mr Tan announced that the discount on foreign worker levies will start in October.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Builders will get levy discounts and can keep workers longer

Construction firms will be able to save $350 a month for each foreign worker on their staff - after they send them for safety training.

The discount on levies will begin in October and cover foreign workers with at least six years of construction experience in Singapore and who are certified by the Building and Construction Authority.

Bosses will also be allowed to keep their foreign staff for longer.

The incentives were announced yesterday by Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan and follow a spate of 40 deaths in the workplace since January.

Seventeen were from the construction sector, double the total for the same period last year. The sector also had the highest number of fatalities for the whole of last year.

The incentives were announced yesterday by Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan and follow a spate of 40 deaths in the workplace since January. Seventeen were from the construction sector, double the total for the same period last year. The sector also had the highest number of fatalities for the whole of last year.

"Concerted and urgent action must be taken to improve workplace safety," Mr Tan said at an industry event.

To qualify for the levy discount, workers must finish at least 120 hours of training on approved safety courses or get an advanced certificate under the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualification framework.

These work permit holders can be upgraded to a R1 status which recognises multi-skilled workers.

Construction firms pay a levy of between $300 and $950 a month for each work permit holder they hire or have on their current staff.

The amount varies depending on the workers' skill and whether firms stay within the allocated number of foreign workers they are entitled to. The number is calculated based on a formula called the Man Year Entitlement (MYE).

From next month, firms which kept within their MYE will pay $100 more for each construction worker not in the R1 scheme. Workers on other skill tiers are not affected.

If a worker qualifies for the R1 scheme, firms need only pay either $300 or $600 a month for him. The rate will be revised again next year.

R1 workers can also be hired for up to 22 years - 12 more than their lower-skilled counterparts.

"Employers will also have greater flexibility in deploying these multi- skilled workers onsite, reducing downtime and improving productivity," said Mr Tan.

The long-term goal is to encourage a strong workplace health and safety culture in Singapore.

Last month, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) raised the minimum time for companies ordered to stop work, from two to three weeks.

Companies also risk being deprived of new foreign workers until they have resolved safety issues.

During raids last month, the MOM inspected more than 800 construction and marine worksites. Inspectors found more than 1,000 workplace safety and health violations. More than 22 stop work orders and 300 fines were issued to 117 firms.

Mr Kenneth Loo, president of the Singapore Contractors Association, said that it had been working with the Government to come up with yesterday's announcement.

"Saving on levy is one thing," he said. "The main thing is that workers can work longer and, with experience, enhance safety standards in the construction industry."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2016, with the headline 'Incentives for firms to send workers for safety training'. Print Edition | Subscribe