Sir, this pandemic has been one whiplash after another for our construction sector. The latest whiplash comes from the surge of cases in India. It has forced us to bar entry to all work pass holders from there. This means the industry’s manpower crunch will continue and even worsen.
This Bill allows contractors to adjust the monetary sums of contracts that have not yet been completed. This will help contractors cope with the increased manpower costs.
However, as I have raised in my previous speech on the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Amendment No. 2) Bill, it remains unclear whether yet again allowing modifications of agreed-upon contracts is a lasting solution.
Ultimately, we are talking about labour supply problems that may be long-run, given that the pandemic shows no signs of abating in many developing countries.
On that, I have three points of clarifications.
Temporarily allow workers to get skill-certified in Singapore
My first point is about temporarily allowing workers to get their skills certified in Singapore.
Typically, migrant workers looking to join our construction sector must first enroll in Overseas Testing Centres (OTCs) within their home countries. At these OTCs, they must complete either the Skills Evaluation Certificate (SEC) or Skills Evaluation Certificate (Knowledge) (SEC(K)), which certify that the worker qualifies as Basic-Skilled construction workers.
On 5thMay, BCA introduced an exemption. For six months, workers from China can obtain their skills certification in Singapore rather than in their home country. This reduces the bottleneck in China, where some OTCs remain closed, and helps alleviate our labor supply crunch.
Can the Ministry clarify what is the usual passing rate of the SEC and SEC(K) tests in each country’s OTCs?
For areas where the passing rate is usually quite high, can the Government consider introducing similar temporary exemptions for other source countries? For instance, there remain OTCs that are closed in Myanmar and Thailand.
This can help us temporarily alleviate the supply crunch without compromising on the skills requirement we have set.
Expand list of source countries for construction sector
My second point is about expanding the list of source countries which we debated earlier.
We have always restricted the list of countries from which each industry can hire Work Pass holders.
For the construction sector, the list is Malaysia, China, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and South Korea.
Can the Government explain the basis for restricting the list of source countries?
Can the Government also consider expanding the list of source countries?
There are likely other countries where migrant workers with basic skills can be found. Indeed, times like this highlight the risks of over-relying on a limited number of source countries.
Let me clarify that expanding the list of source countries can align with our goal of moving the industry towards increased productivity. With a more diverse supply pool, it may become easier to find higher-skilled workers.
We could then could move towards raising our skills requirements for what counts as Basic-Skilled or Higher-Skilled, as well as tapering off the number of lower-skilled migrant workers in the sector.
Impact on Government expenses
My third point is about the impact on our Government expenses.
Will this Bill result in the Government ending up paying more on construction projects than previously expected, as contract sums get adjusted upwards.
While I understand that the final impact will have to be quantified by Assessors who will have to look at applications on a case-by-case basis, has the Government at least estimated the range of increased costs that it will have to bear as a result of potential contract adjustments?
It is likely that at any given time, the Government is the largest spender on construction contracts in Singapore. We must help the construction sector but we must also find the balance and guard against the possibility that all of our yet-complete projects see ballooning costs as a result of this legislative amendment.
Sir notwithstanding my clarifications, I stand in support of this Bill.
Watch the speech here.