180k foreign workers, dependants to stay home from today

They join thousands already isolated in dorms; another 596 cases confirmed here

All work permit and S Pass holders in the construction industry will undergo a mandatory 14-day stay-home notice from April 20 to May 4, 2020. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Around 180,000 foreign workers in the construction industry and their dependants will be on stay-home notices starting today, as the number of coronavirus infections continues to rise.

The notices apply mostly to work permit and S Pass holders currently not staying in dormitories, as well as their dependants.

The figure, given by the Manpower Ministry yesterday in response to queries from The Straits Times, comes after Saturday's announcement that all work permit and S Pass holders in the construction industry will undergo a mandatory 14-day stay-home notice from today to May 4.

This move, which aims to prevent further transmission of the coronavirus at work sites, excludes workers staying in the 18 dormitories now gazetted as isolation areas, or any foreign employee dormitory, as special arrangements have already been made for them. There are 284,300 work permit holders in the construction industry.

The 180,000 workers and their dependants affected by the stay-home notice requirement are now staying in factory-converted dormitories, temporary quarters on construction sites and private residential premises such as shophouses.

About 27,000, or 15 per cent, of the 180,000, mostly S Pass holders and their dependants, live in Housing Board flats.

The 180,000 also include a "small percentage" of the 7,000 healthy workers who have been moved to alternative living areas such as military camps, floating hotels and sports halls, said MOM.

But employers can apply for some of their workers to be exempted to carry out essential services like mosquito control at construction sites. Such appeals will have to be approved by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), and the number of workers allowed to leave their residences during the stay-home period to do such work will also be limited, according to an advisory.

In addition, employers who previously had workers classified as essential have to reapply to BCA to be exempted again, as the latest rule supersedes earlier approvals.

Yesterday, another 596 cases of Covid-19 infection were reported, bringing the national total to 6,588. The vast majority are work permit holders staying in foreign worker dormitories.

The late announcement on Saturday caught some in the building industry off guard, with contractors having just yesterday to make arrangements for their workers.

Mr Chan Ewe Jin, a council member of the Institution of Engineers Singapore, said contractors got word of the stay-home notice at "very short notice" but said that, "understandably, things develop very quickly and we all have to work towards supporting this (move) to mitigate the situation". He added that many in the construction sector are seeking clarification from BCA on the measures.

Mr Chan, who is also managing director of engineering firm ECAS Consultants, said the stay-home measure may not have a long-term impact on firms as it coincides with the circuit breaker period. But some firms could face a shortage of staff to do essential work, he added.

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Meanwhile, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that worker dormitories able to accommodate 2,900 people are being built in Changi East.

Photos on Mr Khaw's Facebook post showed what looked like prefabricated dorms being built, with double-deck bunk beds and a gym with a cross-trainer and weights.

The dorms will house workers building Changi Airport's Terminal 5. Mr Khaw noted that most construction projects nationwide have been suspended but "some urgent projects", such as Changi's third runway, have been exempted.

The Ministry of Defence also said yesterday that it is recruiting former Singapore Armed Forces regulars to support the teams deployed at foreign worker dormitories.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2020, with the headline 180k foreign workers, dependants to stay home from today. Subscribe