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Construction delays impact workers’ conditions

All PostsNewsConstruction delays impact workers' conditions

story Joyan Tan

Builders work on the building’s exteriors from construction site elevators.
Builders work on the building’s exteriors from construction site elevators. (Elizabeth Heng)

Delays in the construction of Yale-NUS College’s new campus, due to incidents such as the dengue outbreak last year, have led to an increased urgency to complete the building project by early August. This may have caused lapses in working conditions for construction workers working on the project, as Yale-NUS students express their concerns.

According to President Pericles Lewis, the original plan had been for “two-thirds of the campus to be ready by January 2015 and the other third to be ready by June 2015”. The revised expectation is that the College will be completed in July, and latest by early August. While the project has experienced manpower constraints due to tightened governmental controls on foreign labor, Mr. Lewis said that the biggest reason for this delay was the dengue outbreak in August 2014.

The dengue outbreak had a larger impact on the construction schedule than expected, according to Mark Francis, Project Director of Design & Construction. A stop work order was issued for five weeks, he said. Subsequently, workers had to be gradually brought back on board and there was a “psychological lack of momentum”. Mr. Francis said that if not for the dengue outbreak, the College would have been ready for students to move in by January 2015.

The concluding stages of construction coincide with recent concerns expressed by students over the construction workers’ working conditions. Rachel Quek ’18 said, “There was one night when it was about 3am and [the workers] were still doing their work.” Sau Yee Tsoi ’17 made the same observation in a post on the Yale-NUS College Students Facebook group, on March 25. “Why are they working at 3.30am in the morning…” she asked.

Manager of Design & Construction Diana Bain said in an email interview that workers work from 8am to 7pm with two 15-minutes coffee breaks before and after the one-hour lunch break. Paid overtime work has been extended to 10pm during the current project peak period. Ms. Bain noted that while the College is against any work being carried out after that time, “there has been the odd occasion where certain critical work had to be completed and workers were asked to work additional hours”.

In a similar vein, Abdul Hamid ’17 expressed his concern over workers’ working conditions after seeing a worker work in “pretty heavy” rain. According to Hamid, the worker had been in a construction site elevator at “around the same level” as him on the 13th floor of Residential College 4. The worker stayed up there “for about 10-15 minutes” before the elevator was brought down. “It looked pretty unsafe for someone to be up there on such a high level working despite the bad weather,” Hamid said.

According to a construction worker, whom The Octant interviewed on the basis of anonymity for job security reasons, workers move indoors whenever it starts to rain. They resume work outdoors after the rain stops. According to Quek, some workers continue working outdoors when there is a slight drizzle.

The safety lapses may be a product of the tight schedule the construction company has to work with to complete the campus in time. Quek noticed that construction work on the campus seemed to have ramped up from the mid-semester point. “I see them working non-stop; the construction sounds are getting louder every day as well,” she said.

Mr. Francis said that due to the unexpected delays the College has encountered, “we’re pushing really hard here towards the end.” Faculty and staff will begin moving into the new campus in the coming months, and students will officially move in next semester.

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