VACCINATION priority should be given to construction industry workers and those involved in the building materials supply chain under Phase 2 of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, with a target of full vaccination – ie two doses – by the third quarter of 2021. This will facilitate the reopening of the construction industry in stages based on priority.
Following the government’s announcement that Phase 1 of the National Recovery Plan (NRP), which includes maintaining the full movement control order nationwide, will be extended, most economic activities are still not allowed. The construction industry is one of the most affected sectors since the nationwide MCO was announced on June 1, 2021.
Currently, the operating rate of construction sites is low and most working contractors have noted a shortage of building material stocks, which will most likely run out in the near future.
In response, the Master Builders Association Malaysia (MBAM), together with 35 associations in the construction industry, have sent a joint memorandum to Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
In general, we strongly support the efforts and initiatives of the Special Committee for Ensuring Access to Covid-19 Vaccine Supply and the Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force to date. However, we hope that the vaccine supply schedule will be improved to achieve the set vaccination rates.
The industry is also pleased with the implementation of the Construction Industry Vaccination Programme (Civac), an effort by the Construction Industry Development Board Malaysia, led by the Works Ministry, to expedite vaccination of the construction workforce to achieve the appropriate herd immunity.
However, Civac vaccines have been allocated for only 40, 000 workers in Phase 1 and 100, 000 workers in Phase 2, which is only 10% of the total construction industry workforce comprising about 1.4 million people. We fear that the target of herd immunity networks will not be achieved according to the government's plan.
At the same time, a more pragmatic and humane approach to dealing with foreign workers in the construction industry should be considered by the government, especially those who hold expired travel documents and/or work passes but are stranded in Malaysia due to a lack of transportation back to their country of origin.
Because the success of vaccination strategies at the national level is highly dependent on vaccinating as many people within Malaysia's borders as possible, the exclusion of a large group can affect the timeline for achieving herd immunity. While this is not an ideal solution, we are of the view that for now, priority should be given to national vaccination targets over enforcement of immigration rules.
In addition, we would like to appeal for the vaccination process of construction workers to be carried out at mobile vaccination centres deployed at dormitories or worker-centred residences. This would reduce mass movements and minimise interaction between workers and the local community, especially those from vulnerable groups.
We also believe that reopening the construction industry should start now and not in Phase 3 of the NRP, as the use of threshold values collectively at the national level as opposed to the use of specific local situations is not very helpful for planning. The extension of Phase 1 to July 2021 without a clear end date is also a sign that the transition to the next NRP phase remains subjective.
Therefore, we recommend that the reopening of the construction industry be implemented in stages and in order of priority. Flexibility can be given to some sectors in the industry to resume operations when part of their workforce has been vaccinated. All companies or businesses allowed to operate must, of course, adhere to strict SOPs even among fully vaccinated employees.
It is appropriate to emphasise here that the supply chain of the construction industry, which includes suppliers of building materials and professional services or consultants, also requires permission to work according to the same timeline as contractors.
In the meantime, we also request that the SOPs for the construction industry and all related subsectors be issued early before the implementation date of any new restrictions or regulations, rather than being introduced at the last minute. This is to help contractors and all elements of the construction supply chain make adequate preparations to implement any changes.
The reopening of the construction industry can be assessed and implemented according to different time frames and determined by factors that are objective as well as localised.
Among other issues and proposals included are a study on expanding the operational coverage of the variation of price clause and automatic extension of time to construction projects in the private sector as well as amendments to the Temporary Measures for Reducing the Impact of Coronavirus Disease Act 2019 (Covid-19) 2020 to expressly include claims for time and cost sharing.
Construction industry players are very hopeful that the proposals in our joint memorandum will be duly scrutinised and subsequently accepted for implementation quickly.
TAN SRI SUFRI HJ MHD ZIN
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