Most building projects to resume by end of next month amid new protocols

Separately, Covid-19 taskforce is also reviewing work-from-home arrangements following requests from companies for more flexibility

Fri, Aug 07, 2020

Claudia Chong

THE vast majority of migrant workers residing in dormitories will be able to resume work by mid to late August, with most built projects to restart by the end of next month.

But the construction sector must adapt to a very different environment with new protocols in place, said Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce managing the Covid-19 outbreak.

The pandemic has cast a shadow over the built environment and property development sectors, disrupting construction timelines and dampening home sales.

The government in May introduced a temporary relief measure for the property sector in response to the impact of Covid-19. Asked whether there are plans to extend the measure, Mr Wong said the six-month reprieve is quite generous and takes into account the time needed for the sector to resume activities. The government will continue to monitor the situation and work with various stakeholders, he added.

The relief measure encompasses the grace period given for the completion of residential, commercial and industrial development projects, and the sale of housing units in residential projects relating to Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) remission for housing developers.

The testing of migrant workers to detect Covid-19 cases is expected to be completed by Aug 7, while workers in quarantine facilities will be tested when their isolation period ends. The number of cases in dormitories are expected to remain volatile for the next two weeks before tapering, said Mr Wong.

Government agencies are working closely with employers to ensure that safety measures are in place once migrant workers resume work. Testing of workers will happen every 14 days and confirmed cases will be promptly isolated.

Even as migrant worker dormitories are cleared after testing, concerns remain over how quickly workers can restart work.

A spokesperson from the Singapore Contractors Association Ltd (SCAL) noted that workers are required to be housed according to the projects that they are involved in, instead of being dispersed across different blocks or dormitories. This has not yet been done.

Each construction project is also only allowed to have a maximum of 10 postal address of dormitories assigned to it.

"Many main contractors and subcontractors have given feedback that workers will not be able to start work unless there is further relaxation of the number of addresses per project," said the SCAL spokesperson.

Mr Wong said once projects get going, the government will need to help contractors to get used to the "new normal" for construction activities. "There will be more measures and protocols in place and there will be more testing of the workers. It will be a completely different environment for the entire sector. So we are very mindful that it goes beyond just a resumption of activities," he said.

"The entire sector has to transform itself and be more productive, and this is an ongoing long journey that the government agency is committed to working with the private sector to bring about."

Separately, the taskforce is reviewing work-from-home arrangements following requests from companies for more flexibility. Employers and staff pointed to an impact on productivity, among other factors.

"We see these appeals, and we are still studying the matter to see if there may be some change or modifications to the work-from-home requirement," said Mr Wong.

He emphasised that even if some adjustments were made, the taskforce would still like to see a high degree of people working from home. This helps to reduce the congestion on public transport and the number of people coming together in workplaces, which could be sources of risk, he said.

There were 301 new coronavirus cases confirmed as at noon on Thursday, taking the total number of cases to 54,555.

They included four community cases, comprising three Singaporeans or permanent residents and a work pass holder, said the Ministry of Health.

There were also four imported cases who had been placed on stay-home notices upon arrival in Singapore. The vast majority of other cases comprised migrant workers living in dormitories.