Labor shortage tied to delay in execution of govt projects

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Several firms request for time exemption

KUWAIT CITY, March 23: With the continued suspension of flights from many countries to Kuwait, especially from countries that supply labor, government projects have become one among the most important sectors that are affected by the current situation, reports Al-Qabas daily. The cost of government projects being implemented by many state agencies, especially the Ministry of Public Works as the top state contractor, the Ministry of Electricity and Water and the Public Authority for Housing Welfare, will inevitably increase in light of the impact on dozens of contractors as a result of the acute shortage of workers and the presence of thousands among them outside the country, as well as the difficulty in recruiting new workers.

The previous situation prompted dozens of companies, which are implementing government projects but have suffered large losses, to request a time extension for those projects and be exempt from the fines for the delay resulting from the suspension of work during the total or partial curfews that were aimed to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, given that these circumstances are beyond these companies.

The demands of the companies did not stop at just requesting for extension of the projects’ duration but also amend the contract values, as those companies have been bearing the costs of the laborers during the curfew periods without benefiting from them and the changes in the prices of materials, especially with the impact on the freight and supply movement. All this led most of such companies to incur heavy losses, as indicated in the documents reviewed by the daily.

Informed sources from the Ministry of Public Works said the current situation is new and is not related to the ministry alone, but represents a general situation of the state and all other countries of the whole world. They affirmed that the impact differs from one sector to another, and there are projects that have been severely affected by the shortage of workers, while there are other projects that have continued execution especially those related to road maintenance.

The sources did not exclude the possibility of contractors resorting to the judiciary for a decision on the matter if the concerned authorities refuse to extend the duration of the projects, especially since the current contracts do not contain clauses related to the force majeure of the type of the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitates proactive steps by government agencies to study the situation at the level of state projects.

According to January’s report on the completion of the construction projects by the Ministry of Public Works, the ministry is implementing a number of projects for various state agencies, including the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Education, at a cost of nearly half a billion dinars — a cost that doubles several times in view of the rest of the state projects. However, the shortage of labor was a common factor in the delayed completion of the majority of these projects.

The reports submitted by the site engineers to the leaders of the ministry reveal that the shortage of manpower in some projects during the pandemic reached more than 50 percent compared to the situation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The site engineers said the completion rates during some periods of the past year did not exceed ten percent of the planned completion during those months. In their reports, they highlighted the difficulty in the return of the workers stuck overseas, and the inability of contractors to bring in new labor force, as well as the existence of the curfew periods during which it is difficult for the workers to move because of their presence in isolated areas.

These were among the most important reasons for the delay in the completion of projects that are being implemented in many locations. This prompted the contractors of these projects to request a study of their situation in light of the developments that the country experienced since the beginning of the pandemic.

The engineers affirmed that the closure of many local and international factories as well as the government’s decisions taken due to the COVID-19 crisis were among the reasons for the delay. In its issue of January 30, the daily reported that the Ministry of Public Works is considering the formation of a joint committee with the Fatwa and Legislation Department to study the situation of the contracts that were affected by the pandemic.

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