Fuel price rise and crackdown on illegals affecting construction sector

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - People looking to own a house any time soon will have to pay at least 10 per cent more for their dream home, according to developers.

They said the increase was due to the double whammy that has hit the construction industry - higher costs of building materials resulting from the 20 sen rise in the price of RON95 petrol and diesel and absenteeism among foreign workers because of the nationwide crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Real Estate and Housing Developers Association of Malaysia president Datuk Seri Michael Yam Kong Choy said the failure of foreigners to turn up for work was causing delays, thus adding to costs which contractors were certain to push to consumers.

He added: "The raids on construction sites have frightened even legitimate migrant workers who are staying away.

"This also happened in past raids, Legitimate migrant workers simply did not turn up for work or delayed their return from their country until the storm blew over.

"Because of the shrinking supply of workers, developers have to pay more for labour to meet contractual deadlines, failing which they will be penalised."

Developers are bound by the Sales and Purchase Agreement and will have to pay compensation to buyers for late delivery, Yam said, adding that contracts in the private sector were awarded with no provisions for price adjustments.

While acknowledging the need to flush out illegal immigrants, he said any reduction in the number of workers would hurt developers.

On the fuel price hike, Yam said it affected the supply chain of the construction industry, involving more than 100 types of business.

Master Builders Association of Malaysia president Matthew Tee said members were complaining that their legal workers whose documents were being processed were staying away for fear of being arrested.

"Our understanding is that all foreign workers will be detained unless they can prove that they have proper documentation," he said.

"This can be difficult as their documents may still be with their employer or immigration pending the affixing visa of stickers by the authorities."

He added that there had been cases in the past of legal workers being detained for up to 14 days.

Tee hoped that there would be no recurrence of such instances, and warned against a repeat of the situation in 2002 when the construction industry was brought to a standstill due to a shortage of workers.

In George Town, the Penang Master Builders and Building Materials Dealers Association says it expected construction costs to rise by 3 per cent to 5 per cent.

Association president Datuk Lim Kai Seng said the cost of transportation was likely to rise 10 per cent to 20 per cent, and the prices of sand and cement by between 5 per cent and 10 per cent.

He said that cement now cost RM17.50 (S$6.80) per 50kg while sand sold for RM70 per cubic metre.