Emergency legislation in the pipeline for battered construction sector

Measures aim to share burden more fairly between contractors, developers, buyers

Emergency legislation to address the severe disruption to the construction sector arising from curbs on the entry of migrant workers is in the works, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

It will be aimed at making the burden more fairly shared between the different parties - the contractors, the developers and the buyers, he said, adding that the Government hopes to introduce the legislation when Parliament next sits on May 10.

Union leaders and industry stakeholders welcomed further measures to support the battered sector, which continues to face issues even after the virus outbreak at the dormitories was contained.

PM Lee said at the hybrid May Day Rally: "The safe management measures which are still necessary have burdened the industry.

"The manpower crunch, because some of the migrant workers have gone home, has added to its problems. Projects have been delayed. Costs have gone up. The recent ban on travellers from India has worsened the situation for the construction industry."

Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said in a Facebook post that the pandemic has delayed progress at many worksites, and affected buyers of homes and other properties.

Mr Desmond Lee said: "We are working on further measures to help keep construction going. This includes potential legislation that PM Lee spoke about, that will enable the significant increases in labour costs to be fairly shared between developers and contractors, and between main contractors and subcontractors."

Mr Kesavan Vasundran, president of the Building Construction And Timber Industries Employees' Union, added: "If the timeline for projects has to be stretched longer, then everyone has to understand that it is because of the pandemic. Everyone has to do their part."

But Mr Desmond Lee noted that even as these measures are given out to support firms and workers, the construction sector has to "press on with the much-needed transformation" of the industry, so that it grows more productive, efficient and manpower-lean.

Singapore National Employers Federation vice-president Douglas Foo agreed that while short-term measures can bolster the sector, it has to co-create new models of working that incorporate technology to make the work safer and less labour-intensive.

With current travel restrictions due to Covid-19 and manpower issues, projects end up getting pushed back.

"Today, there are many projects that are being delayed. There are many construction companies that have projects that they have to deliver within a certain timeline," Mr Foo said.

With these challenges, companies will be looking forward to the upcoming legislation, he added.

"The enterprises are not alone. They have got the partnership with the unions and the government agencies, so that we can come up with a plan on how they can continue to deliver those projects without compromising safety."

Straits Construction executive director Kenneth Loo said the industry is concerned about the rising costs of manpower and related problems like supply chain disruption, adding that it is also grappling with fulfilling contractual obligations on time.

"The challenge is still there and I think that is something that needs to be addressed," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 02, 2021, with the headline Emergency legislation in the pipeline for battered construction sector. Subscribe