Move may lead to lower productivity and affect lives of workers, residents
SINGAPORE — Giving foreign workers days off on days other than Sundays works for industries such as retail and hospitality, but might not work as well in the construction sector, said industry players TODAY spoke to.
They urged careful consideration, saying that rostering construction workers’ days off on weekdays could lead to lower productivity, longer timelines for projects and, in the process, affect workers’ and residents’ lives and the businesses catering to the foreign worker community.
Another obstacle: Construction sites 150m away from residential premises cannot operate from 10pm on Saturdays until 7am the following Monday. They also cannot operate from 10pm on eve of public holidays until the day after the public holiday. While this rule limits the noise pollution near homes, it also means that most construction work cannot be carried out on Sundays and public holidays.
Mr Desmond Hill, who is in the senior management of a construction firm with 500 workers, said varying days off could be rostered at the expense of productivity, but that the workers will still not be able to work on Sundays. He also pointed out that Singaporeans manage the workers and they would also want to spend time with their families on Sundays.
This conundrum came about after Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said in Parliament on Monday that his ministry is exploring the idea of rotating rest days for migrant workers to prevent large congregations at popular areas on Sundays, in response to a suggestion from Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Teo Siong Seng to allow lighter work on weekends.
Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Yeo Guat Kwang told TODAY that businesses have suggested this to him numerous times, but he is against the idea as residents would then be subjected to construction noise on their rest days.
Dr Ho Nyok Yong, President of the Singapore Contractors Association, said giving workers an additional day off apart from Sunday would further worsen the labour crunch, pointing out that construction projects are already being delayed and that the industry needs workers to put in the current six days a week.
A contractor who declined to be named agreed, noting that delaying construction projects would lead to additional costs and added that workers who moved here would rather work six days to earn more.
Mr Yeo noted that workers themselves might not warm to the idea. “The workers will all want to go on the same day off so that they can meet in a large group for recreational purposes. This kind of fellowship is important to them,” said Mr Yeo, who is also Chairman of the Migrant Workers’ Centre. He added that varying rest days could also affect retail outlets which hold special promotions for workers in areas they frequent on Sundays.
HOME founder and Chief Executive Bridget Tan suggested the Government build more social facilities for the workers instead of rostering their days off, calling the idea a form of discrimination. The root of the problem, she said, was that Singapore has been importing foreign workers without consideration for their social needs.
Mr Yeo said the solution to large congregations of workers in Sundays was not as straightforward as simply rostering rest days — an arrangement that must be studied in detail by employers, the Government and migrant worker groups before coming into play. “There are a lot of practicality issues that need to be overcome,” he said.