Construction industry in crisis as coronavirus fears put projects on hold

Monday, 10 February 2020 00:44 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Work on major projects in Colombo and highways on hold as Lankan workers stay away and Chinese workers remain indoors
  • Chamber of Construction reps. meet Chinese Embassy officials to discuss urgent need for return to normalcy for sector 
  • Urges Chinese workers who went on New Year holiday to return soon
  • Chamber concerned about discrimination of Chinese workers and urges local works to return
  • Though officially only 15,000 Chinese workers employed here, unofficially figure believed to be close to 100,000


Construction work on major projects in Colombo as well as highway projects which employ Chinese workers remain stalled since the coronavirus outbreak, with Sri Lankan workers refusing to report to work while Chinese workers have been asked to stay indoors, construction industry sources said.

Chamber of Construction Secretary General/CEO Nissanka N. Wijeratne said fears over the possible spread of the virus had had a big impact on the progress of ongoing projects with much of the work on hold for over three weeks.

“Lankan workers are reluctant to return over fears that they may fall ill while the Chinese workers fear discrimination,” Wijeratne said.

A delegation from the Chamber met Chinese Embassy officials last week to discuss the issue and urged them to take measures to dispel fears as well as to ensure that Chinese workers who had gone back to their country for the Lunar New Year holidays return soon.

“Many Chinese workers had gone back to their homes for the New Year holiday but are unable to return now with restrictions on travel in their own country as well as restrictions put in place here.

 We urged the Chinese Embassy to ensure that they return soon as their absence is having a big impact on project progress,” he said.

Wijeratne also voiced concern about the discrimination being faced by Chinese workers, saying that unnecessary fears were being harboured by Lankan workers who were keeping way from work.

Nearly 30%-40% of the workers on major Chinese projects in Sri Lanka are nationals of that country while local companies too have started employing workers from China. While officially there are only around 15,000 Chinese workers in the construction sector here, unofficially close to 100,000 are believed to be working here.

A Chinese construction sector is paid around $ 1,000 per month but the consensus in the industry is that they are worth the money. “The output of a Chinese worker is about three times that of a local worker,” Wijeratne said, adding that many Lankans were reluctant to join the industry.

“We have offered many incentives to local youth to join the construction industry, but the response has been very poor,” he said.

Wijeratne said it was important to dispel unnecessary fears and treat Chinese workers with empathy without overreacting. 

“We have had one patient suffering from coronavirus and the health authorities have taken many precautions to stop it from spreading. There should be no unnecessary fear,” he added. (CK)