Ban likely to cause more delays to construction projects

The move to ban long-term pass holders and short-term visitors from India from entering Singapore will have a major impact on the construction, marine and process (CMP) sectors here, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

The construction sector will face further delays to building and housing projects already hampered by the pandemic.

And the Government is looking at how it can provide additional support for local small and medium-sized enterprises and contractors that will be hurt by the new restrictions, Mr Wong said at a news conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19.

These support measures are being worked out and will be announced when ready, he added.

"I seek Singaporeans' patience and understanding. If certain projects were to be delayed further, please understand why this has happened and know that we are doing this because of public health reasons," said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force.

Yesterday, the task force announced that from 11.59pm today, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors from India will be barred from entering or transiting in Singapore in the light of the deteriorating Covid-19 situation there.

This new restriction will also apply to those who have obtained prior approval for entry.

Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng said the number of workers coming into Singapore "will definitely be affected".

"The health of the workers within the dormitories, and also the public health of all of us as a nation, is of paramount importance."

He did not provide specific figures but told Parliament last month that the CMP workforce had shrunk by about 15 per cent since the pandemic last year. Yesterday, he said: "We are working across the board... to see how we can better support the industry."

National Development Minister Desmond Lee told Parliament earlier this month that 85 per cent of the 89 ongoing Build-To-Order projects face delays of six to nine months due to the pandemic, with 43,000 households affected.

Other projects, including future MRT lines, have also been delayed by up to a year due to the manpower crunch and supply disruptions brought about by Covid-19.

Yesterday, Mr Wong said the majority of new arrivals to Singapore from India work in the CMP sectors - where companies are reliant on these new arrivals.

"We are mindful of this," he said.

"On Tuesday, when we tightened the inflow of workers, we already knew this would have an impact, but more so today with the complete freeze on arrivals."

In a Facebook post, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said the CMP sectors have been under great strain since the pandemic began and have been recovering at a much slower pace compared with other sectors.

While CMP firms have made "great efforts" to reduce their reliance on foreign manpower, Mr Chan said the Government recognises the limitations they face, and is looking into measures to provide support and relief.

Mr Lee said the Government will work closely with trade associations in the built environment sector to support companies and help them transform.

He noted that property buyers will also be concerned about the possibility of further delays. "We will work with the HDB, private developers and construction companies to see how their projects can be safely brought back on track."

Straits Construction executive director and chief operating officer Kenneth Loo said his firm hardly brings in new workers from India as it has been difficult to get entry approvals. The few incoming workers are now in limbo as they have fixed entry dates that cannot be brought forward.

"We are already short of workers. This will make matters worse," Mr Loo said. "The pace of work and productivity will definitely drop."

He hopes the Government will not only provide financial support to affected firms, but also help extend their contractual obligations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2021, with the headline 'Ban likely to cause more delays to construction projects'. Subscribe