Coronavirus: 265,000 foreign workers get the nod to restart work

Foreign workers in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors have been given the green light. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 restrictions had forced firms in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors to halt work since April, with many still unable to fully resume operations.

But the dark days in all three sectors have begun to recede.

As of Tuesday, 265,000 foreign workers in the sectors have been given the green light to return to work, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Of these, 180,000 are residents in dormitories.

This is a 73 per cent increase from a fortnight ago, when just 104,000 workers from these sectors in dorms were allowed to do so, the MOM said in a statement on Tuesday (Aug 4).

In a separate update on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health added that the authorities remain on track to clear all foreign worker dormitories of Covid-19 by Friday.

But 17 standalone blocks in eight purpose-built dormitories will continue to serve as quarantine facilities. They currently house about 9,700 workers, the authorities said.

These workers have to serve out their 14-day isolation period, and take a Covid-19 test before they can resume work.

An additional block in Westlite Mandai, a purpose-built dormitory, will also remain as a quarantine facility.

The MOM said the reason is that a dormitory operator had found their residents did not stringently observe the quarantine requirements during the initial 14-day isolation period.

"Although many tested negative at the end of the isolation period, we share the operator's concerns and assessed that it would be prudent to go through another round of isolation," the ministry added.

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As of Tuesday, 127 more dormitories have also been cleared of Covid-19, bringing the total to 1,109 dormitories and 52 blocks for recovered workers in 14 purpose-built dormitories.

Additionally, about 273,000 foreign workers, or close to 90 per cent of dorm residents, have either recovered or have been tested and found free of Covid-19 as of Monday.

Many of them are staying in cleared dormitories or blocks for recovered workers and can resume work once dormitory operators, employers and workers have made the necessary preparations to minimise the risk of new infections, said the MOM.

A worker allowed to resume work will see a green access code on his SGWorkPass app, after taking specified steps. These include downloading an app to update his health status.

"Many dormitories complete the steps almost immediately, with almost all completing in a week or less," said an MOM spokesman.

Mr Thomas Oh, director of Beng Khim Engineering and Construction, is relieved that about two-thirds of his 300 or so workers can head back to work, though a small number still face some issues owing to Covid-19 restrictions.

For instance, main contractors are allowed to have workers from only up to 10 different addresses present at a work site, which means some still cannot resume work.

Mr Oh is among more than 100 sub-contractors who had written to the Government in June about issues faced by the industry, including financial difficulties.

In response, the MOM announced last Saturday that the Government will give a full waiver of the foreign worker levy for another three months and more levy rebates to firms in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors.

"We felt pretty hopeless back then - it was like we were just waiting to die," said Mr Oh. "But the Government has reacted positively. The improvements in the past two to three weeks and the announcement of more financial support have given the industry a chance to fight for survival."

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