Coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus: Construction sector faces tough transition, but help will be at hand

Work in progress at a construction site in Choa Chu Kang Grove last week. The Government will build new workers' dormitories designed to be more resilient against infection risks. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
Work in progress at a construction site in Choa Chu Kang Grove last week. The Government will build new workers' dormitories designed to be more resilient against infection risks. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

The construction sector will need to institute new safeguards at worksites and continue its push for automation and productivity to reduce its reliance on foreign workers in the wake of Covid-19, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

Noting that the sector was a "key vulnerability" in the pandemic, Mr Wong outlined a slew of changes that will need to take place.

For instance, workers in construction, who have accounted for a substantial number of Covid-19 cases in Singapore so far, will have to be tested regularly and comprehensively, said Mr Wong.

"We will also need to review and improve living arrangements for migrant workers."

Commenting on the coronavirus situation in migrant workers' dormitories, which have seen major outbreaks over the past few months, Mr Wong said that the outbreaks occurred despite improvements made to the dormitories over the past decade, and precautions that had been taken.

The Government will tighten the safeguards and build new dormitories designed to be more resilient against infection risks, he added.

Earlier this month, the Covid-19 multi-ministry task force announced that it will be building new Quick Build Dormitories, which can be assembled within a few months and last for two to three years.

They will serve as a test bed for the Government to pilot improved standards for dormitories before it decides on specifications for new permanent dormitories.

Five workers will share a set of toilet facilities, compared with 15 under current rules.

There will also be a maximum of 10 beds per room, with at least 1m of spacing between them.

A typical dorm today has 12 to 16 workers in each room.

But Singapore has to be mindful that infection risks will remain, cautioned Mr Wong, due to the large number of workers living together and sharing communal facilities.

In fact, he said, all communal living spaces, including nursing homes or cruise ships, will always be at risk in the event of an infectious disease outbreak.

 
 
 
 

He noted that the changes required are significant and will mean extra costs for the industry, though he gave his assurance that the Government will be introducing new measures to cushion the financial impact of these safeguards, and to help move the industry to new productivity levels.

This support comes on top of short-term costs that will be borne by the Government through the Fortitude Budget.

Mr Wong also acknowledged that this transition towards new modes of working and living, including reducing the industry's reliance on migrant workers, will be a difficult one for the construction sector.

"I assure everyone in the industry that we will work closely with you to get through this difficult patch, and to emerge stronger from this experience," he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2020, with the headline 'Construction sector faces tough transition, but help will be at hand'. Print Edition | Subscribe