Public Utilities (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Png Eng Huat

(Delivered in Parliament on 6 February 2018)

The Public Utilities (Amendment) Bill is a step in the right direction and consumers can expect to benefit from having a peace of mind knowing that public health standards are maintained and their interests are better protected.

The importance of a plumbing system in a modern and densely populated city like ours cannot be understated.  A badly designed or maintained water reticulation or sanitary system is a recipe for disaster.  A case in point was the contamination of the water supply system in a mixed development in Bukit Timah in August 2000, where over a hundred people were sickened by contaminated water in the incident.

While legislation and licensing can help raise the competency of the plumbing industry, experience does matter when it comes to giving consumers a peace of mind.  In the water contamination case cited earlier, the plumber appointed by the management corporation was licensed but he could neither anticipate the potential risk of the badly designed water supply system nor prevent the contamination from happening.

Under Clause 21 of the proposed amendments in this bill, those who are licensed under the existing Licensed Water Service Plumber scheme, and who also hold the Singapore Plumbing Society registration certificate, will automatically qualify for the new Licensed Plumber (LP) scheme.  The rest of the practising plumbers would have until 30 September 2018 to bring their necessary qualifications up to par to qualify for the new LP licence.  That will entail attending sanitary and water service plumbing courses conducted by PUB, as well as to pass an assessment test.  The courses and assessment are on top of attaining a baseline Building and Construction Authority’s Builder Certificate course in Plumbing and Pipe-Fitting or equivalent.

Mr Speaker, the above prerequisite to obtain a LP licence would be too onerous for freelance plumbers and those old school plumbers who fashioned their trade based on good old fashion hard work, honesty, and work experience gained over the years.  Some of these seasoned plumbers are non-English speaking and may only converse in their native mother tongues or dialects, but they are armed with a wealth of knowledge and experience honed from the school of hard knocks.   For some of them, plumbing may be the only tools of the trade they know and their livelihood would come to an end in two months’ time, if they are unable to qualify for a LP licence.

While I support the bill, I wish to seek the indulgence of the minister to look into making some provisions for these plumbers so that they can carry on working until such time when they decide to call it a day.  Some of their work involve only replacing old pipes, nothing complicated, and nothing to redesign.

Can PUB offer the prerequisite courses and assessment for the new LP licence in a language other than English? Can the assessment test be administered in dialects?  Can PUB make an exception to waive the prerequisite courses and assessment for plumbers who can prove they have the necessary work experience, and have been working in the industry long before even some of us in this chamber were born?

Mr Speaker, this group of old timers in the plumbing trade is shrinking over time, just like our pensioners.  When the compulsory Medishield Life was introduced, pensioners were worried they would be worse off but it turned out that their entitled medical benefits under their respective pension schemes remain unchanged.  Medishield Life coverage, although compulsory, does not kick in for some pensioners.  Would the ministry consider making a similar exception to allow this group of old school plumbers to continue to ply their trade without the compulsory LP licence, after PUB has made the necessary assessment of their competency? Can PUB issue these plumbers with a non-renewable provisional licence of 3 years, for example, so that these seniors can have ample time to make other plans and wind down their trade over time?

We are an ageing society.  We are witnessing the passing of a generation of tradesmen and craftsmen from an era gone by.  The good old hawker, the yellow top taxi driver, the old school plumber, to name a few, would probably ply their trade one last time in this decade or so.  No one is more disrupted than these senior tradesmen and craftsmen as we embrace the digital economy.  Could we not give these pioneer workers a longer runway to adapt, change, and to wind down their trade?

There is motion in the Order Paper today calling for this House to recognize our seniors as a gift to our society.  It calls on the Government to continue to strengthen support for our seniors to age with dignity and to spearhead community efforts to create a society where they can thrive.  Mr Speaker, allowing some of our seniors to continue their old trade in their sunset years, even for a fixed period of time, would send a clear message that this government does support our seniors to age with dignity.