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BCA relaxing rules on hiring China construction workers due to India travel ban, but some firms see minimal impact

SINGAPORE — As the flow of construction workers from India has been impacted by new border restrictions last week, the authorities will be temporarily loosening measures to allow construction companies to recruit workers from China from May 7.

From May 7, the rules on hiring construction workers will be relaxed, but some firms in the industry do not believe the step will have much impact on hiring.

From May 7, the rules on hiring construction workers will be relaxed, but some firms in the industry do not believe the step will have much impact on hiring.

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  • From May 7, the authorities will temporarily relax requirements for construction workers from China
  • BCA is also extending public sector contract deadlines, among other measures
  • Construction bosses said the moves are well-intentioned but are unlikely to help much
  • They said hiring construction workers from China, which has a booming building industry, is tricky


SINGAPORE — As the flow of construction workers from India has been impacted by new border restrictions last week, the authorities will be temporarily loosening measures to allow construction companies to recruit workers from China from May 7.

However, some construction and contracting companies were sceptical that the move would greatly improve their dire manpower situation, though they told TODAY that it is better than nothing.

In a statement on Monday (April 26), the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) said that it will implement a scheme to allow Chinese work permit holders to obtain their skills certification in Singapore as not all of the overseas testing centres in China have resumed operations.

The temporary scheme, which will also be introduced by the Manpower Ministry, will last for six months.

Workers are currently required to undergo evaluation of their trade knowledge and skills competency in these testing centres before arriving in Singapore.

Said the BCA: “Upon implementation of this temporary scheme, employers will be permitted to bring in People’s Republic of China (PRC) work permit holders without skills certification, but they must comply with the other prevailing entry approval and work pass requirements.”

Such a move would make it easier for construction companies to hire workers from China, helping these companies mitigate the impact of the border measures imposed last week on travellers and visitors from India in light of the country’s worsening Covid-19 situation, said the statement.

BCA will also be granting a time extension of 49 days to eligible public sector construction contracts for delays due to Covid-19, on top of the 122 days extension that was earlier given.

The agencies will share the cost of non-manpower related cost increases by giving out 0.1 per cent of the awarded contract sum for every month of delay, said the BCA.

More details will be announced when ready, it added.


Speaking to TODAY, five bosses of construction firms which predominantly hire migrant workers from India and Bangladesh said the new support measures were a step in the right direction, though they were also likely to be limited in their impact.

The industry currently faces an immense migrant labour crunch due to the pandemic, resulting in severe construction delays that have added to months of backlogs, they said.

And while the idea to simply source workers from another populous country, like China, may seem like an obvious solution, the reality is that it is difficult to do so.

Mr Nick Tay, director of Hiap Huat Demolition Contractors, said he currently hires five migrant workers — one from India and four from Bangladesh, which is a far cry from more than 20 workers he used to hire. Due to the labour shortage, he also had to sell off four of his six trucks as he has no one to drive them.

“Around 60 per cent (of my contracts) are backlogged,” said Mr Tay, adding that he has tried to source workers from other countries such as Myanmar.

The Government’s move to extend contract deadlines will help relieve the anxiety caused by these backlogs, though it affects only public sector contracts, he said.

Mr Richard Yea, chief executive officer of interior design firm Design 4 Space, said it is not easy to source foreign workers from a new source country, noting that construction firms have encountered difficulties when trying to do so amid the pandemic.

The Covid-19 entry requirements to Singapore have compounded the issue. It used to take a few weeks at most to bring in a worker, but now takes months in order to wait for the authorities to approve their entry, said Mr Yea.

Several said that sourcing workers from China is doubly difficult — the country’s economic boom has led to a strong construction demand within its own borders, and improvements to its standard of living over the years also came about because salaries have risen.

This means that Singapore firms will have to bite the bullet and pay more to hire Chinese workers, in order to fulfil contracts that are already priced for lower-cost workers from India and Bangladesh, said some construction bosses.

“Nowadays, it is very different. If we hire from China, we would also be competing with their (domestic companies) for labour,” said Mr Yea.

In addition, Singapore’s present requirement for workers from China to be evaluated by overseas testing centres also meant that the workers would have to fork out course fees and spend time trying to pass these tests.

Said Mr Thomas Oh, project director of Beng Khim Construction: “So, the workers would do their calculations and when they realise it means they would not be able to work for a month or so, they end up deciding against coming to Singapore.

“After all, they are interested in making a living, so all these costs add up for them.”

Removing this requirement, as the authorities will be doing from May 7 albeit temporarily, is a step in the right direction, he said.

But it may still be insufficient to sway workers from China to work in Singapore. Like Mr Yea and Mr Tay, Mr Oh’s construction company predominantly hires workers from South Asia.

The Government could consider other measures, like easing migrant worker levies or extending deadlines further, said those interviewed.

But all recognised that the fight against Covid-19 comes first — lifting the travel restrictions on India that has seen an unprecedented surge in viral cases in recent days is not an option.

“As much as we like for the borders to be open, we accept that this crisis needs to be dealt with properly," said Mr Oh. 

"At the end of the day, the Government has already waived where they could and spent much on support measures; otherwise, we would not even survive. It’s better than nothing.”


Responding to TODAY’s enquiries on Thursday, the Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL) said that the latest government measures to allow construction firms to recruit workers from China are welcome.

“However, we hope that the Government will not impose high levies for this group of workers. The industry is already facing rapidly rising wage demands and escalating material costs after the resumption of works,” it said.

Site productivity has also dropped because of routine coronavirus testing and precautions against Covid-19, and high levies would add to contractors’ financial stress.

The association hopes that all parties, including home buyers, developers and government agencies, will recognise that the industry is facing an unprecedented labour crunch and refrain from pushing for progress “without due consideration of the circumstances of the industry”.

It added that contractors, subcontractors and their workers are hard-pressed to complete projects.

“They are facing mental stress due to the pressure and physical exhaustion (brought on by) longer working hours. This situation is not desirable and may lead to a higher rate of site accidents.”

The association said that the sector needs more help to alleviate rising business costs.

“SCAL is appealing to the Government to lower workers’ levies and to reduce the costs of bringing back workers.”

Related topics

Migrant Workers construction India China travel ban Covid-19

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