The entry ban for non-Singaporean citizens and non-permanent residents travelling from India will “adversely affect the inflow of construction workers and will negatively impact the timeline of construction projects and cause further delays,” said the Singapore Contractors Association Ltd (SCAL) in a statement on Friday (23 April).
This comes a day after the government announced that it would be closing its borders to such inbound travellers who have been to India in the last 14 days starting Saturday, 24 April.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement on Thursday that while there is no evidence linking the recent cases of COVID-19 at the Westlite Woodlands Dormitory to the new strain of the virus from India, “there is still a risk that a leak may happen, and cause another wave of infection in the dormitories,” since many of the arrivals from India are workers in the construction, marine, and process sectors.
Under this indefinite ban, short-term visitors and long-term pass holders with recent travel history to India are barred from entering Singapore. The ban extends to transit passengers as well and applies to those who have already obtained prior approval to enter the country.
The SCAL said in its statement that the construction industry has been facing a “serious labour crunch” since the pandemic hit, with many construction workers leaving the country to return home.
As such, SCAL said that it is “working progressively to source for manpower from countries other than India.”
The impact of the labour crunch has already caused delays in construction projects for between 9 to 12 months, said the Association. It has also caused an increase in the cost of labour and materials by 30 to 50 percent.
SCAL noted, “Without a sufficient work force, Singaporeans will have to wait longer time for their HDB flats and apartments to be completed. Other buildings in the city such as healthcare facilities, infrastructure projects will also be delayed due to this setback.”
“The repercussions are that Singaporeans will inevitably be paying for higher construction costs if the situation is not resolved soon.”
However, is this truly the case?
Former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Yee Jenn Jong had highlighted last year that despite the higher wages of construction workers in developed countries, the cost of construction is comparable to Singapore.
In an article published on his blog, the Workers’ Party (WP) politician examined the argument that having a higher proportion of locals take up jobs in construction—where locals would also be more expensive to hire—would lead to higher construction costs.
He pointed to the Turner & Townsend International Construction Market Survey 2019 which shows that the construction cost of comparable projects are similar between Singapore, cities in Australia and New Zealand, and Tokyo.
Another report by Rider Levett Bucknall on the international construction market 2016 also showed that the cost per sqm of gross floor area is quite similar between Singapore and Australian cities.
Using Japan as an example, Mr Yee pointed out the highly integrated and efficient processes in construction there.
He wrote, “Their planning and project management tools can talk across companies. They also need to construct to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, which makes it a lot more challenging than construction in Singapore. Yet their overall construction costs are comparable to Singapore as well.”
He stressed, “Higher wages local workers may not lead to much higher overall costs.”
Part of this, Mr Yee pointed out, is because a workforce that is well trained will make up for the higher cost of wages.
He highlighted an interview by top local businessman and hotel magnate Ho Kwon Ping who said in 2011 that he was shocked when they built their hotel in New Zealand as the number of workers they had to engage was only about 10% of what they did in Thailand, because the workers there were well trained.