SINGAPORE: The Public Utilities (Amendment) Bill, which paves the way for homeowners to approach the same plumber when it comes to solving both water service and sanitation issues, was passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 6).
The Bill requires water service and sanitary plumbers to operate under a common Licensed Plumber (LP) scheme, meaning they will need to be competent in both types of plumbing work.
“Homeowners, consumers and developers will be assured of the quality of work carried out by these trained and licensed plumbers,” said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor.
“The Bill will also provide for (national water agency) PUB to give directions to LPs as well as professional engineers to rectify works which contravene requirements.”
Members of Parliament (MP) voiced their support for the Bill, noting that it will mean more convenience for homeowners who might otherwise need to engage multiple service providers.
“If we get plumbers who are competently trained in different areas of plumbing, then it would also be good for homeowners as they don’t have to run around scouting for different plumbers,” MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah said.
“Having just one scheme also means we can now engage with one plumber to carry out both sanitary and water service plumbing,” added Mr Louis Ng, who is also a Nee Soon MP.
Currently, only water service plumbers – those who install and repair water pipes, tanks and fittings that carry PUB-supplied water in buildings – need to be licensed under the Licensed Water Service Plumber scheme.
Sanitary plumbers refer to those who install and repair sanitary discharge pipes and appliances that carry used water from buildings to public sewers.
In addition, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Joan Pereira hopes PUB can get plumbers to specialise in areas like water hammer, water pressure and water tank pump issues.
“Besides the general training, they can each add value by having specialisations,” she said. “Many licensed plumbers would tell you they can do everything. But by the time they get to your house, you know they are simply troubleshooting the problem.”
In response, Dr Khor said the register of Licensed Water Service Plumbers on PUB’s website indicates the types of services that some plumbers are offering.
“When the new scheme takes effect, PUB will extend the listing of types of services offered for sanitary plumbing on the register of Licensed Plumbers on PUB’s website as well,” she said.
Besides the convenience, Ms Pereira said consumers will benefit from having a larger pool of professionals who provide quality plumbing services.
“Enhanced professionalism of our plumbers can only lead to a more reliable water system with fewer faults,” said Mr Ng.
Water and sanitary plumbing systems are also getting more integrated and complex, Dr Khor said, increasing the risk of cross-contamination if they are not built properly.
“Plumbing systems have a significant impact on the quality of tap water and on public health,” she said. “The amendments to this Bill are an important step forward to ensure that Singaporeans continue enjoying clean and safe water.”
ENOUGH TIME FOR TRAINING?
While the MPs supported the expanded licensing scheme, some questioned if a six-month transition period is sufficient for training.
The new scheme kicks in from Apr 1, but plumbers have until Sep 30 to qualify for the new licence.
During this period, water service plumbers and those currently or formerly registered as sanitary plumbers with the Singapore Plumbing Society may continue practising their respective trades pending their licence.
To qualify for the new licence, plumbers need to complete the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Academy’s Builder Certificate course in plumbing and pipe-fitting (or equivalent qualifications).
They will also need to attend PUB's sanitary and/or water service plumbing course and pass an assessment.
Dr Khor said that even before announcing the new scheme, PUB had had engaged the Singapore Plumbing Society extensively. After the announcement, it held public briefing sessions with stakeholders for 10 consecutive weeks.
“To facilitate the transition to the new scheme, additional runs of BCA Academy’s Builder Certificate course and PUB’s short in-house conversion course were mounted,” she said.
To date, 96 per cent of 863 existing plumbers – who are either licensed water service plumbers or plumbers registered with the Singapore Plumbing Society – have already obtained the qualifications to become LPs, Dr Khor noted.
Of the remaining plumbers, around 10 will complete the Builder Certificate course by the middle of this year and around 20 will need to pass PUB’s in-house conversion course, she said.
“For those who have not completed their licensing requirements by the end of the six-month transition period, they can approach PUB who will assist them on a case-by-case basis,” she added.
From Oct 1, it is an offence for anyone to carry out water service or sanitary plumbing works without a valid LP licence. LPs will also be required to carry an authorised license card from PUB for verification.
Foreign plumbers with valid work passes who wish to work in Singapore will need to be licensed, Dr Khor said.
“Let me emphasise that consumers who engage the services of unlicensed plumbers do so at their own risk,” she stated, adding that enforcement action will be taken against the unlicensed plumber and consumer.
However, unlicensed plumbers can continue to carry out simple works like installing sinks, bathtubs and showers. They can also carry out more complex tasks under the supervision of LPs who sign off on the works.
“Should there be any non-compliance with the requirements and standards stipulated by PUB, the LP who signed off on the works would be held responsible,” she added.
“PUB will work with the Singapore Plumbing Society to enhance consumer education so that consumers will be aware of the importance of using Licensed Plumbers for critical plumbing works.”
REQUIREMENTS RAISE CONCERNS
As for the plumbers themselves, Mr Ng asked how PUB will ensure a smooth transition for the majority who are elderly and might need assistance navigating the changes.
Workers’ Party MP Png Eng Huat said such “old-school” plumbers who “fashion their trade based on work experience gained over the years” might find the certification too onerous.
MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Gan Thiam Poh added that the changes might hurt their livelihoods, especially as they have to pass a workplace literacy and numeracy course before registering for the Builder Certificate course.
“Many practitioners are experienced senior workers, who speak mostly dialects,” he said. “English writing tests are not to their advantage.”
Mr Png urged the authorities to look into waiving such pre-requisite courses for plumbers who can prove sufficient industry experience. “Some of their work only involves replacing old pipes, nothing complicated and nothing to design,” he said.
In response, Dr Khor said plumbers need to have a working proficiency of English so they can understand the regulatory requirements, read plans and submit forms to PUB.
“While courses are conducted in English, the instructors take a practical approach in helping participants understand the content,” she said.
And to accommodate plumbers who cannot manage the written assessment of PUB’s conversion course, PUB facilitates oral assessment in other languages like Mandarin, she added.
“So far, the plumbers who have engaged PUB are willing to take this course,” she noted.
When it comes to financial assistance, Dr Khor said, PUB waives the fees of its conversion course for all existing plumbers on their first attempt and beyond that on a case-by-case basis.
“For the Builder Certificate course, a variety of subsidies may be used to offset up to 85 per cent of course fees,” she added. This includes using SkillsFuture credits and applying for the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidy.
Nevertheless, Ms Pereira hopes plumbers will see the new requirements as an opportunity to pick up new skills and formalise their knowledge.
“Ultimately, it would help open opportunities and equip them with modern plumbing skills,” she said. “Given that there are so many new flats, the demand for their services would certainly increase.”
Dr Khor said that since the scheme was announced, 25 persons of varying backgrounds – ranging from those with O-Level qualification to degree holders – have completed the requisite courses.
“Other than helping existing plumbers upgrade their skills, we also want to encourage new entrants to join the profession,” she added.