Migrant workers from India to enter Singapore in small numbers through industry-led pilot

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the construction, marine and process sectors have been severely affected by restrictions on the inflow of migrant workers.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the construction, marine and process sectors have been severely affected by restrictions on the inflow of migrant workers.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Migrant workers from India will be brought into Singapore on a "small scale" and in a "calibrated manner" this month through a pilot programme led by the construction, marine and process (CMP) sectors.

If successful, this method will be used to facilitate a steady inflow of migrant workers in a safe and secure manner, said the sectors' leading associations in a joint statement on Wednesday (July 7).

The associations are the Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL), the Association of Singapore Marine Industries and the Association of Process Industry.

The move comes after zero incidences of Covid-19 cases in the first few batches of workers entering from Malaysia last month under the pilot for the marine sector, they said in a joint statement.

“We will continue to carry this (the pilot) out on a small scale and in a calibrated manner to better manage the risks involved and validate the robustness of the tightened end-to-end process,” they said.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman for SCAL said the CMP sectors are looking at bringing in “a few hundred workers from India but it will be done in batches”.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the CMP sectors have been severely affected by restrictions on the inflow of migrant workers.

Currently, those who have recent travel history to Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India are not allowed to enter Singapore under enhanced border restrictions.

In May, the Ministry of Manpower stopped accepting new entry applications for work pass holders from higher-risk countries or regions due to Covid-19, except for workers needed in key strategic projects and infrastructural works.

Work pass holders from these countries who were approved to enter Singapore before July 5 were no longer allowed to do so, with some exceptions.

These measures have placed significant stressors on sectors dependent on migrant workers, including CMP sectors.

Last month, Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong said more migrant workers and foreign domestic helpers will soon be allowed to enter Singapore to work, to ease the "immense pressures" faced by companies since the start of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, the three associations said the CMP sectors play an essential role in Singapore's development.

"Companies in the CMP sectors contribute to the development of public infrastructure and private properties, construction and maintenance of vessels and offshore energy infrastructures." 

These "support the ocean economy and plant engineering services to enable Singapore to be recognised globally as a leading maritime, energy and chemicals hub", they said.

Since end-2019, the number of work permit holders in these sectors has declined by more than 15 per cent or 60,000.

"This has resulted in project delays and significant labour cost increase, which in turn affect the viability of businesses," they said.

"Besides delays in housing and infrastructure projects which have implications on home owners and Singaporeans, there are implications on Singapore's global competitiveness, credibility of our businesses and locals employed in these sectors when projects are not delivered on time or terminated," they added.

They said the labour crunch could also increase the risk of workplace accidents.

Even as the sectors continue in their efforts to boost productivity, they still need access to manpower, said the statement.

To address this, the sectors piloted a tightened end-to-end process to bring in migrant workers from overseas, initially from Malaysia.

The process relies on testing of the workers through a Covid-19 testing regime over a 14-day period at specific on-boarding facilities in their source country before they depart for Singapore.

Once the workers arrive in Singapore, they are placed on stay-home notice (SHN) and are subject to prevailing health protocols and safe management measures.

The pilot programme aims to integrate the overseas training, testing and on-boarding process with Singapore's on-arrival testing and SHN requirements, said the associations.

This is to ensure the overall well-being of the workers before they are allowed to commence work, they said.

Construction firms that spoke to The Straits Times said they welcome the pilot.

Mr James Yuen, director of construction firm Gammon, said: “It’s a positive initiative and contractors welcome the efforts to help alleviate the acute worker shortage. 

“We applaud the efforts and hope to see the efforts increased to address the worker shortage and help industry get back onto its feet,” he added.

Mr Chris Lim, director at HSL Constructor, cheered at the news, but urged MOM and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to consider temporarily waiving its skills training requirement to allow such pilots to be extended to other lower-risk non-traditional source countries such as Myanmar and the Philippines to bring in skilled workers for the construction industry.