Construction worker deployment could be curbed to aid infra push

Posted on May 08, 2017

THE SHORTAGE of skilled construction workers that is expected to hinder projects associated with the government’s infrastructure drive is being addressed to ensure that any delays will only be minimal, with limits on the overseas deployment of workers with the required skills under study.

Laborers working on a residential development -- BW FILE PHOTO
Asked whether the economy is experiencing tight labor supply in the construction sector, Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said: “It’s true,” in a phone interview over the weekend.

Real estate consultancies Colliers International Philippines and Pronove Tai reported earlier that the property market is hampered by construction delays, which are set to worsen over the medium due to a crowding out effect in labor supply due to the administration’s aggressive public infrastructure buildup.

However Mr. Bello said that these construction delays will be “minimal,” for the public infrastructure projects at least, as the department is looking to build up the supply of skilled labor by expediting training courses provided by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

“We are studying it. Well, I talked to Secretary Mamondiong, the Secretary of TESDA, that we fast track the training of skilled workers. Because the construction industry really needs it,” Mr. Bello said in Filipino, referring to TESDA chief Guiling A. Mamondiong.

These skilled workers include carpenters, plumbers, electricians, welders, and operators of heavy equipment. Mr. Bello noted that skills training under TESDA typically takes about three to six months.

Sought for comment from one of the government’s economic managers, Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said that while it is true that the construction industry is seeing a shortage of skilled workers, the government’s hopes for infrastructure to drive growth in the years to come remain intact.

“I think there are some skills, finishing skills, we are a bit short in. That’s because there is a boom in high-rise construction,” said Mr. Diokno in an interview late last month.

He added that since most of the government’s projects are in the countryside, some contractors are reluctant to be part of the projects because of the security situation in parts of the country.

Mr. Diokno said that if needed, the government may import skilled workers from China or South Korea given their advanced knowledge in building infrastructure.

“The Koreans are great at building roads. And in some of the big projects the Chinese considered to bring (labor),” he said.
“Right now, not a challenge. If ever, our priority is to get the projects done whether we import labor or use local workers,” he said.

Moreover, Mr. Bello said that the Labor department is looking to limit the deployment of construction workers abroad.

“We are also studying how to lower the deployment of skilled workers overseas. We can’t avoid the attraction of high salaries in other countries, particularly in the Middle East. We are studying how to reduce overseas deployment,” he said.

“We should also consider the demand of the workers, kung sana papantayan ang sweldo nila, edi hindi na sila aalis,” added Mr. Bello but noting that it has to be further studied.

Mr. Bello said that they are looking to cut deployment rate by 30% when asked how much will they decrease the deployment of skilled workers abroad.

“But we are still studying it. Because we also have to consider commitments abroad, we have existing bilateral labor relations,” he said.

Mr. Diokno said earlier that the government is likely to see higher levels of spending this quarter, as construction of public infrastructure typically start at that period given the dry weather.

For the medium term, the National Economic and Development Authority unveiled the three-year rolling infrastructure program late last month during the Dutertenomics forum, which includes a total 4,895 priority infrastructure projects amounting to P3.608 billion that is spread out for the next three years.

The administration aims to jack up infrastructure spending to about 7.1% of gross domestic product until the end of its term, in a bid to boost the economy to 7-8% growth next year until 2022 from 6.9% in 2016, and slash poverty incidence to 13-15% from 21.6% in 2015. -- Elijah Jospeph C. Tubayan