Project delays caused by tighter rules on foreign workers

Singapore’s construction industry is suffering from late payments and project delays, as contractors are squeezed by higher operating costs and the government’s curb on foreign workforce, according to media reports.

“Construction demand is expected to continue with many big projects such as the MRT line extensions, Changi Airport expansion, but a shortage of workers means projects may cost more and take longer to complete,” said KPMG Singapore Partner for the building sector, Teo Han Jo.

In fact, more than half of the payment transactions in the sector were overdue in the second quarter, with the incidence of late payments increasing by 3.8 percentage points to 51.4 percent, revealed the Singapore Commercial Credit Bureau (SCCB).

Payments are considered late when over half of the amount owed is not satisfied on time, while prompt payments are made when at least 90 percent of the total amount is paid on the stipulated date.

But one of the most pressing issues for construction companies are the high levies on foreign workers. In fact, the operation of a subcontractor working on Downtown Line 3′s Upper Changi Station has been disrupted when it failed to pay such fees on three instances due to cashflow problems.

“Works on the DTL3 (Downtown Line 3) Upper Changi Station are progressing as normal. The sub-contractor . . . has foreign worker levy arrears and the main contractor, Samsung C&T Corporation, is in the process of taking over (its) workers. There is no impact to the schedule of the project,” a representative from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said.

Despite these issues, the prospect of the construction industry appears promising due to the substantial number of projects in the long-term pipeline, particularly government infrastructure developments, noted Teo.

“Government agencies are also placing more emphasis on quality rather than just prices when awarding projects. The net effect of this for the construction industry is good over the longer term, as it raises overall quality and helps construction companies maintain healthy margins,” she added.

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