SINGAPORE - Hit by Covid-19 manpower shortages, the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors have received a booster shot to help them retain their work permit holders and facilitate the inflow of new workers.
Foreign workers, whose work permits are expiring between July and December, will be allowed to renew the permits for up to two years, even if they do not meet the criteria, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Friday (Aug 13).
The beneficiaries include those who are reaching the maximum period of employment or maximum employment age cap. Companies do not need to have higher-skilled workers comprising at least 10 per cent of their work permit holders.
This temporary lifting of conditions and other measures will help employers in the three sectors to ease the labour crunch caused by tighter border restrictions due to Covid-19. Last year, the number of work permit holders in these sectors fell by nearly 60,000.
Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said the move will ensure that these sectors can continue to meet the labour needs for their operations and preserve core capabilities.
Dr Tan, who was visiting Straits Construction Singapore in Bukit Merah on Friday to learn how it has tapped technology, said the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors are key drivers in the nation's economy.
He noted that government agencies have been working closely with the sectors to transform their businesses and reduce manpower reliance.
However, these efforts will take time, Dr Tan noted, adding that the new measures will go towards easing the immediate labour concerns.
As part of the help measures, in-principle approvals of all work pass holders in the three sectors who are unable to enter Singapore due to Covid-19 border curbs will be extended. These include Employment and S passes, as well as work permits.
There is an automatic six-month extension from July 1. This can be extended further by up to six more months to give affected employers enough time to bring in their workers.
For the construction and process sectors, there will be a temporary removal of requirements to qualify for the man-year entitlement waiver, which helps the companies retain experienced and skilled workers.
From Oct 1 to March 31 next year, the minimum period of employment for waiver eligibility will be removed for new and renewal work permit holders from China, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Philippines.
To tackle the current manpower crunch in the construction industry, the Government has partnered Singapore Contractors Association Limited (Scal) to introduce a six-month retention scheme for experienced work permit holders whose previous employment has been terminated but who wish to continue working here.
They will be granted a 30-day stay, during which Scal will provide necessities such as housing and food, while a job match is facilitated with prospective employers.
Scal president Ng Yek Meng said the scheme - which will be in place from Sept 1 to Feb 28 next year - will help to retain as many workers as possible in the sector.
"If these workers are willing to stay in Singapore... we will job-match them with some of the employers that are willing to hire them," he added.
In a Facebook post, the Migrant Workers' Centre said it hopes that the scheme will be extended to other sectors if the pilot for the construction sector is successful. "This is because we would then be able to keep a skilled migrant worker workforce pool that will enhance our productivity and competitiveness in the long run," it added.
On the measures to retain work permit holders, Dr Tan said: "Rather than let them go back, only for them to apply, come back and start the whole process again, we thought that it would be more productive if we can work with the industry. This is not an afterthought. It is an entire progression of a whole slew of measures."