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Lower levies for hiring experienced, safety-trained foreign workers

SINGAPORE — In a bid to grow a pool of workers experienced in workplace safety and health (WSH) matters, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will allow work permit holders with such experience to qualify for recategorisation as higher-skilled workers, which will lower their levies for their employers, from October.

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SINGAPORE — In a bid to grow a pool of workers experienced in workplace safety and health (WSH) matters, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will allow work permit holders with such experience to qualify for recategorisation as higher-skilled workers, which will lower their levies for their employers, from October.

The change to the multi-skilling scheme, meant to provide workers with more pathways to upgrade themselves, comes as the number of workplace accidents in the construction sector remains at a constant high. Since the start of this year, the sector has had 17 deaths, nearly double the number during the same period last year.

Announcing the change at the Construction Safety, Health and Security seminar yesterday, Minister of State (Manpower) Sam Tan said “concerted and urgent” action must be taken to improve the woeful safety record in the construction sector.

The change to the multi-skilling scheme, which comes under the Building and Construction Authority, allows basic skilled R2 workers with at least six years of construction experience in Singapore and a Skills Evaluation Certificate (Knowledge) in the construction trade to be certified as higher-skilled R1 workers.

However, the worker must also have clocked a minimum of 120 hours of training in safety-related courses, or obtained a Singapore Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) Advanced Certificate in WSH.

Currently, only workers with a minimum of four years’ experience and two Skills Evaluation Certificates (Knowledge) in different construction trades qualify for the scheme.

Basic skilled construction workers can be employed for up to 10 years, and their employers currently pay a levy of S$550 for them. Meanwhile, higher-skilled workers — whose employers pay a S$300 levy — can work for a maximum of 22 years.

Speaking to reporters after a site visit in Bukit Batok, Mr Tan noted that the MOM had stepped up its efforts to ensure that workplaces comply with WSH rules. During an enforcement operation in April and May, more than 800 workplaces in the construction and marine sectors were inspected.

Over 22 Stop Work Orders and 300 fines were issued to 117 companies, after more than 1,000 WSH contraventions were found. Last month, the MOM announced stiffer penalties for errant employers, including increasing the minimum Stop Work Order period from two to three weeks. So far, 19 companies have been slapped with lengthened Stop Work Orders due to workplace fatalities.

Two companies TODAY spoke to welcomed the change to the multi-skilling scheme. Mr Johnny Lim, executive director of Teambuild Engineering and Construction, felt that the scheme’s expansion would motivate him to send more workers for safety training. “We’ve got to plan for it. It’s a temporary loss for the company but in the long run, it’ll help at job sites,” he said.

The company currently has 40 safety supervisors, but Mr Lim said “they haven’t clocked the full 120 hours”. “So, we just need to top up (the number of required hours) and schedule them for courses as and when (it is needed),” he added.

Mr Kenneth Loo, president of The Singapore Contractors Association, believes that employers would benefit from the levy savings, and the retention of experienced workers. However, he also acknowledged that continuous effort was needed to promote a culture of safety, given that construction firms have varying practices.

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