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New measures to help construction, marine firms hire and retain workers

SINGAPORE — The Government is introducing a slew of measures to allow more work permit holders in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors to continue working in Singapore.

  • The construction, marine shipyard and process sectors have seen a labour crunch due to travel restrictions
  • To meet firms’ manpower needs, the Government will introduce new measures to retain and hire workers
  • Work permit holders whose permits expire end of 2021 can renew them without meeting the renewal criteria
  • A new scheme will also help workers whose permits have been terminated to find a new employer
  • Firms look forward to the latest measures but feel new scheme will not ease labour crunch

 

SINGAPORE — The Government is introducing a slew of measures to allow more work permit holders in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors to continue working in Singapore.

This is with the hope of alleviating the manpower crunch in these sectors during the Covid-19 pandemic. The process sector includes plants in the manufacturing of petroleum, petrochemicals, specialty chemicals and pharmaceutical products.

The move came as the number of work permit holders in these sectors declined by nearly 60,000 last year, leading to a labour shortage and soaring construction costs in these sectors.

As of December last year, there were a total of 311,000 workers in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors.

Speaking to the media on Friday (Aug 13), Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said that despite efforts by the Government to help firms in these sectors reduce their reliance on manpower, it will take time for this to happen.

“At the same time, the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors continue to face significant manpower shortages as a result of tighter border restrictions due to Covid-19,” Dr Tan added. 

He also said that the measures will help firms in these sectors retain their existing work permit holders and facilitate the entry of new ones into Singapore to meet their manpower needs.

Dr Tan was addressing the media after a visit to to Straits Construction Singapore’s office at Hoi Hup Building on Alexandra Road.

EASIER RENEWALS FOR WORK PERMIT HOLDERS

Detailing these measures in a press release on Friday, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said that work permit holders whose permits are expiring between July and December this year will be allowed to renew their permits for up to two years, even if they do not meet the renewal criteria.

This includes those who are reaching the maximum employment age of 49 or are reaching the maximum period of employment.

The maximum period of employment is 14 years for basic-skilled workers and 26 years for higher-skilled workers from China as well as non-traditional source countries.

Non-traditional source countries refer to Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Companies need to have at least 10 per cent of their work permit holders as higher-skilled workers before they can hire new basic-skilled workers or renew the permits of existing ones.

However, with the new measures, companies will no longer need to meet this requirement.

MATCHING WORKERS WITH PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYERS

The Government is also partnering with the Singapore Contractors Association Ltd (Scal) to introduce a retention scheme that helps to match work permit holders with prospective employers even after their permits have been cancelled or expired.

Currently, employers must repatriate work permit holders once their permits are terminated. Or else, work permit holders may look for a new employer between 21 and 40 days before their current work permit expires if they wish to continue working in Singapore.

Under the new scheme, however, experienced construction work permit holders whose work permits have been cancelled or have expired will be allowed to stay on in Singapore for 30 days to look for a new employer with the help of the association.

During this period, Scal will cover workers’ food and lodging. It will also match them with prospective employers. The hiring employer will bear the costs of submitting and renewing the workers work permit, MOM said.

If a worker is unable to find new employment within this period, Scal will bear the cost of their repatriation to their home countries.

Dr Tan said: “With these measures in place, we hope to support firms in the construction, marine and process sectors to ease their immediate manpower concerns due to tighter border restrictions.”

He also urged firms to reduce their reliance on manpower by using technology and redesigning jobs to attract more resident workers, noting that the latest measures are only for the short term.

WHAT BUSINESSES SAY

Three construction firms that TODAY approached are looking forward to the short-term measures that allow them to renew their workers’ permits, but said that the scheme to match workers who have terminated permits with new employers would do little to ease the labour crunch in the industry.

Ms Foong Yu Han, director of ADF Construction, said that the revised requirements for work permit renewals would allow her to retain more experienced workers.

Ms Foong, who had 50 workers leave her firm just before the borders closed in February last year, said that she had to ask the ministry to allow her to keep five workers who did not meet the renewal criteria earlier this year.

The retention scheme is also “not too favourable” for Gin Chia construction firm. Its director Yee Sern Wei said that with the ongoing manpower shortage, workers have greater negotiating power over their salaries.

Some workers may force their employers to terminate their permits and use the retention scheme to seek higher salaries elsewhere.

“This will cause a wage competition among all the companies,” he added.

Ms Foong said it is unlikely that employers will terminate their workers’ contracts easily with the great need for workers. If they do, these are likely to be the contract of workers who have disciplinary issues.

“So we are passing workers on to other companies who will face the same troubles,” she added.

Mr Nelson Tee, managing director of CHH Construction System, said that beyond the Government’s latest measures,  employers should take the initiative to have a chat with their workers at least three months ahead of their permit expiry rather than leave it to the last few weeks, in order to encourage them to stay on with the firm.

At this point in time, though, Ms Foong’s view was that opening up the borders, with quarantine measures in place for incoming workers, will be the only way to ease the manpower crunch.

“There are just so many projects but you really have no one to do it and you can’t overwork the current workers. We need more workers,” she said.

Related topics

manpower construction marine foreign workers work permit MOM Covid-19

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