VTL with Malaysia may cause ‘slight’ delays in projects but good for staff morale, say construction companies
SINGAPORE: Construction companies told CNA on Thursday (Nov 11) that they might see "slight" delays in ongoing projects when an upcoming vaccinated travel lane (VTL) between Singapore and Malaysia launches on Nov 29.
Since Malaysia first implemented its movement control order (MCO) in March last year, many of their Malaysian workers in Singapore have not returned home to their families due to border restrictions and stringent entry requirements from both sides.
Under the VTL, fully vaccinated people will be allowed to travel between Singapore and Malaysia, without having to serve quarantine or stay-home notice. Instead, they will only need to undergo COVID-19 tests.
Companies CNA spoke to said they are bracing themselves for a dip in manpower once their workers start applying for leave to go home.
“We are expecting a slight delay (in our projects),” said Mr Toh Chee Boon, director of China Construction (South Pacific) Development, adding that the company currently has 30 ongoing projects.
While he did not specify how long the delay could be, Mr Toh shared that his company has already seen an average delay of nine months across its projects.
“During the period where they return home, (other employees) can help each other by working more to cover their duties,” he said, adding that the company will be reassigning work to those who do not have links to Malaysia.
He said the company, which employs around 100 Malaysian workers, is also likely to stagger leave applications to minimise disruptions to its operations.
East Asia Engineering & Construction said it will monitor the leave applications once the VTL kicks off.
“We will have to observe the situation because we already had some (workers), about four or five, who went back to Malaysia but were unable to come back,” said the company’s CEO Phillip Heng.
“But the situation is still very bad... there are delays, (along with) shortage of manpower, increasing cost,” he added.
Steel producer and supplier company Oriental Sheet Piling said it has been making arrangements for employees - including Malaysian nationals- to work remotely, if possible.
As for those whose job requires them to be on-site, the company is looking at how to support them and facilitate their requests to return home.
“The end of the year is mostly when people take leave on both sides of the causeway, but what we are intending to do is to give them the opportunity to go back,” said Mr Goh Wei Khan, director of Oriental Sheet Piling (ArcelorMittal).
“We will support them fully and make arrangements such that they can go back to see their families and also for some of them. I'm definitely sure some of their families would like to visit them,” he said, adding that the company is currently in talks with its employees to come up with suitable arrangements.
“There will be some delays (to ongoing projects) but I wouldn’t completely attribute it to the VTL, I think the primary factor is still an overall labour crunch,” he added.
A MORALE BOOSTER FOR EMPLOYEES
While the resumption of cross-border travel may potentially exacerbate the current manpower crunch, construction companies told CNA the impact is unlikely to be big or long-lasting.
What is crucial, they said, is that it will help to boost staff morale and emotional well-being.
“A lot of these people have not been back (to Malaysia) for close to two years and so the VTL helps with the mental well-being of members of the industry, (giving) them this opportunity to catch up with whatever links they have across the other side of the causeway,” said director of Straits Construction Kenneth Loo.
“And if you plan properly, you won’t have everyone going back at the same time ... so perhaps this can minimise the impact,” he added.
Echoing his sentiment, Mr Toh urged Singaporeans not to rush to travel to Malaysia for holidays, due to the limited number of flights travelling between Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport under the VTL.
On Monday, authorities announced that the VTL will start with six designated services between the two airports a day.
“Some may not be able to get a ticket because people might be too eager to go for a holiday, so I would like to urge these people to try and give these Malaysians a chance to go home,” said Mr Toh.
Others said the VTL could also help to bring in new hires.
“We've experienced before that sometimes we see a drop in Malaysian applicants who work in Singapore because they're not able to travel back and forth, or (secure) accommodation for the family, so our view is that there might be even more opportunity for labour to come in, at least from Malaysia, given this VTL,” said Mr Goh.
“Some of the applicants that we have spoken to recently actually in fact referenced the VTL and said they will be more comfortable working in Singapore because they know that they’ll be able to see their family on a regular basis,” he added.
“So overall, I think the VTL is providing more opportunities - both from a hiring perspective and a company and business perspective - in giving people mobility across the board, so it’s a net positive.”