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Malaysia’s construction industry faces manpower shortage

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With Malaysia’s recent clampdown on foreign workers, it is of no surprise that the labour-intensive construction sector is the hardest hit.

The construction industry needs a continuous supply of workers – an estimated of one million every year, the majority of them foreign workers – for infrastructure and building projects in order for it to sustain growth of 8% to 10% this year, New Straits Times reported.

According to Master Builders Association Malaysia (MBAM) president Foo Chek Lee, the industry grew 7.9% in the first quarter of the year and 8.8% in the second quarter, said

“It is important that the construction industry, which has tremendous multiplier effects on other sectors, sustain this growth momentum with an adequate supply of labour, skilled technicians and timely payment for jobs done,” he told New Straits Times in an interview.

“In the first half of this year, government and private jobs awarded to contractors amounted to RM58.67 billion. As the projects roll out, we will need the human resources to complete the jobs in a timely manner.”

It is estimated that about 1.3 million foreign workers were needed at construction sites throughout the country. “We still face a shortage and we urgently need more foreign workers,” Foo said.

Foo noted that the Construction Labour Exchange Centre Bhd, established in 2003 by the Construction Industry Development Board, was working closely with MBAM, Home Affairs Ministry and other agencies to facilitate legal and suitable workers for the industry.

He noted that the accumulative consequence of the raised foreign worker levy, minimum wages and rising fuel prices is the rising cost of doing business. “Our members are struggling to be more productive to cope with the situation,” Foo told New Straits Times.

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In a separate interview with the New Straits Times, Foo noted that there should be a mindset change to regarding safety measures at construction sites.

According to New Straits Times, Foo felt that safety measures at construction sites should be incentivised and regarded as part of profit and not a cost.

“We’ve previously suggested for a separate sum to be provided in construction contracts (not to be tendered) for safety and health practices. Unfortunately, many still see this as increasing project costs,” Foo told New Straits Times.

On one hand, employers should regularly identify the hazard, assess the risk and work on risk mitigation controls before the start of any construction activities. On the other hand, employees must also be properly trained to execute safety measures throughout their tasks based on the current benchmarks — MS1722 and OHSAS 18001.

“When we talk about getting more construction projects incorporating the Industrialised Building System, it would mean contractors using more heavy machinery, such as cranes, tower cranes and other lifting equipment, assemble building components at the site,” he added.

Foo said Malaysia’s construction industry was facing a shortage of competent crane and tower crane operators as there were not enough locals to fill the gap.

“According to the Department of Occupational Safety and Health’s ruling, only Malaysians can obtain the certificate of competency in operating cranes. Foo said it was wrong and dangerous to engage illegal crane and tower crane operators,” New Straits Times wrote.

Relatively, he said, heavy machinery usage required a bigger pool of skilled workforce. “Unfortunately, Malaysians are shying away from this field despite crane operators’ salary ranging between RM4,000 and RM6,000 monthly for basic pay, not including overtime.”

He added: “Although some foreign workers might be certified in their home country, no one can determine how well they were trained and how familiar they are with the cranes and tower cranes here.

“The operator and site safety officer has to check on the crane in his daily walkabout. There is a checklist for this and we have issued several guidebooks to raise safety awareness,” he said.

READ MORE: Harsher penalties for Malaysia’s negligent bosses?

At the same time, as the country reports increasing cases of mosquito-borne diseases such as Dengue and Zika, Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Tan Sri Noh Omar said the government would make it mandatory for construction sites to install solar mosquito traps, New Straits Times reported.

“Those who fail would risk losing their licences, Noh reportedly said, adding that developers were expected to absorb the additional cost,” New Straits Times wrote.

In response, Foo said: “We need to tackle the issue at source to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes.”

He felt that putting up mosquito traps would solve only part of the problem and noted that MBAM advises its members to always keep their site clean and free from water ponding.

READ MORE: Zika virus in Singapore prompts advisory on workplace measures

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