Construction firms will get help with Covid-19 compliance costs, says Desmond Lee

A photo of a construction site along Thomson road, on June 1, 2020.
A photo of a construction site along Thomson road, on June 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Construction firms will get help to cope with the short-term costs of complying with precautionary measures against the coronavirus, said Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee on Friday (June 5).

This includes the expenses of testing their workers for Covid-19 regularly.

These are costs that were not priced into their existing contracts, he noted.

In the longer term, the Government will also provide firms with assistance for the additional costs they face, and continue to support the industry, Mr Lee added. More details will be shared when they are ready.

"We recognise the importance of the construction industry, because without them, we would not have our homes, our schools, our hospitals and other services. So we will do what we can, to help as many companies as possible to tide over this crisis," said Mr Lee, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development.

The minister was responding to feedback and concerns raised by MPs and members of the construction industry during the debate on the supplementary Fortitude Budget in Parliament.

A large proportion of contractors have not yet managed to get approval to resume construction work after the circuit breaker, given the numerous requirements that they have to fulfil before they can do so, including having their workers tested for Covid-19.

After consulting with the Ministry of Health (MOH), the authorities will no longer require S-Pass and work permit holders in the construction sector who do not live in dormitories, work only in offices and do not visit worksites to be regularly tested for Covid-19, announced Mr Lee.

On Thursday, Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) had also criticised a new requirement by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) as being too "high-handed". The MOM had said that employers here will have to let MOM move their foreign workers to different dormitories or work at another company in need of manpower in order to get the foreign worker levy rebates announced in the Fortitude Budget.

To this, Mr Lee explained that the Government's intention was to enable workers to be temporarily seconded to other firms to optimise manpower distribution so that more projects can restart sooner. But some firms have said they may require their workers for their own projects that are about to start, and cannot second their workers to other projects, he noted.

 
 
 

MOM and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) will review this requirement, said Mr Lee, and the authorities will work with the industry to find better ways to achieve the optimisation of manpower to benefit the construction sector.

The minister also acknowledged concerns from contractors, who have said that they are sometimes "confused, lost, overwhelmed" by the deluge of information being put out about Covid-19 on a day-to-day basis.

To make it easier for companies to get help, the BCA will now be the go-to agency for all matters regarding the resumption of construction work, said Mr Lee. Firms need only approach BCA if they have any questions or concerns, whether these be about testing their workers or constructing new temporary quarters.

Resources at the BCA will be stepped up to support the huge surge of calls, e-mails and queries from firms, and the agency will coordinate with other relevant agencies to make the necessary arrangements or seek the necessary approvals for firms.

Mr Lee also clarified that some new guidelines for existing factory-converted dormitories (FCDs) and construction temporary quarters (CTQs), such as ensuring that workers sleep in single-deck beds instead of bunk beds, are not compulsory.

So far, more than 20 requests from contractors who wish to build new FCDs or CTQs for their workers have been approved by the authorities, said Mr Lee.

 
 
 

The authorities will continue working with the industry to make sure that revised housing standards that will be piloted in new Quick Build Dormitories, which can be assembled within a few months and last for two to three years, are practical for implementation, he said.

The new specifications include giving each dormitory resident 6 sq m of living space, not including shared facilities, compared with the current 4.5 sq m, which includes shared facilities.

The authorities are prepared to consider further input, and will continue to hold regular engagement sessions with the industry, said Mr Lee.