Want us to test workers for Covid-19? Then foot the bill, developers and builders tell Putrajaya

Construction workers moving out from temporary quarters inside the building site in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur February 15, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Construction workers moving out from temporary quarters inside the building site in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur February 15, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, May 6 — Two of the country’s construction and building bodies have urged the government to bear the cost for demanding Covid-19 testing for site workers, and to introduce a temporary measures Bill to protect the industry.

The Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association (Rehda) president Datuk Soam Heng Choon appealed for the full cost of the screening process to be borne by the government, thus enabling as many workers to commence work on site and get the industry started.

“At the current market rate, the estimated cost per swab test is around the range of between RM350 –RM650 per person, depending on volume. The high cost per person translates to a considerable amount that contractors need to bear,” he said in a statement.

Soam added this is especially costly as a construction site typically has hundreds of workers, thus incurring heavy cost to construction companies on top of all the other mobilisation costs as well as losses since the movement control order (MCO) began on 18 March 2020.

“The virus outbreak and its severity is unexpected, and it is beyond the financial capacity of contractors to bear the cost especially when contractors are already financially affected by the pandemic.

“Another area of concern that we hope the government can look immediately into is the capacity and speed of results for the testing of Covid-19 for all construction workers, as presently Malaysia has tested approximately 220,000 people with a capacity of 16,000-20,000 tests daily,” he said.

Soam added there will be a rush to do the test as millions of workers will be returning to work at the same time, citing feedback from a member developer who said that out of 14 workers sent for testing, only three workers managed to be tested after a five-hour queue while the other 11 had to wait for a few more days to secure their slot which remains unconfirmed.

“News on the media are also going viral on the massive queue of foreign workers seeking for the test at a clinic, to the extent of infringing the one-metre social distancing measure by the Health Ministry.

“With the inability to cope with such high demand, we hope the government can quickly relook into alternatives such as the Rapid Test Kit which is faster, cheaper and readily available in order to accommodate the large volume of workers,” he said, adding the PCR Swab Test can be carried out only if there is an outbreak within the site or carried out intermittently and selectively.

Similarly Soam also suggested that once construction sites begin operating again, if a site’s contractor has been found to fail in practicing Site Operating Procedures per the guidelines issued by the Construction Industry Development Board and which leads to a Covid-19 outbreak, then the contractor should be held responsible for all costs in resolving the outbreak.

The Master Builders Association Malaysia (MBAM) secretary-general Eric Yong Shang Ming in turn called for a Force Majeure Bill or a Legislative Intervention, in support of Redha’s earlier call made on April 8 and similar to bills in other countries such as the United Kingdom’s Coronavirus Act 2020 and Singapore’s Covid-19 Temporary Measures Act 2020.

“This Bill will statutorily protect all contracting parties from unnecessary litigations and provide temporary relief for businesses and individuals who are unable to meet their contractual obligations during this period which is beyond any parties’ control,” he said.

Yong added the proposed Bill’s essential provisions will include a retrospective effect from February 2020 onwards, and a moratorium with a defined period from actions for inability to perform such as up to the year’s end, among others.

“This moratorium should also include a bar from commencing and continuing legal proceedings, including enforcing any security, taking any insolvency-related measures or steps, commencing any execution, distress, eviction or re-possession actions, and enforcing any judgements, awards and determination.

“It should also include temporary relief for companies, and individuals in facing financial difficulties, relief from the happenings or events that have arisen during the MCO, cover construction contract and supply contract for the property industry, prohibit any call on performance bond during the moratorium period, and protection for directors from personal liability for any trading carried out during the moratorium period despite their companies being insolvent,” he said.

Yong said both Redha and MBAM respectfully request for the government to table the Bill during the upcoming Parliament seating on May 18, as the temporary measures is most crucial during this period to effectively protect all stakeholders including developers, builders and purchasers.

“Rehda and MBAM pledge to continue playing our part in this process and beyond, and we sincerely hope the government will give due consideration to our requests to lessen the burden of those who are severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

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