How builders can adjust their way out of the country's labour problems
Adjustment and a change in methods by the home-building business is the only solution to cope with the labour crisis in Thailand.
This article is a follow-up to the "HBD Says" column in January, to suggest further that home-builders change their working and construction system to reduce the working hours and their dependence on intensive labour.
Following are some suggestions:
1. Develop more prefabricated and semi-prefabricated homes.
There are two kinds of prefabricated homes:
1.1 - Full-fledged prefabricated homes require the least construction work. The house is assembled at the factory before being transported to the site, which is ready with pilings and pole caps. These types of homes are small in number because of limitations in transport.
1.2. - Semi-prefabricated homes are those whose parts are assembled at the factory before being transported for assembling at the construction site.
There are three kinds of semi-prefabricated homes:
1.2.1 - A prefabricated-concrete-wall home uses the wall as the structure to support its weight without piles and beams. The wall is, therefore, very strong. The downside is the high weight of the wall and the dependence on large machines in construction. As well, this type of home cannot be extended and expanded in the future.
1.2.2 - Prefabricated skeleton homes are those whose principal structure, piles, beams and planks are made of concrete at a factory. These parts are assembled onsite. Piles and beams are joined and poured and sealed with concrete. Next, the steel structure is erected, followed by the laying of the walls with red bricks or lightweight concrete blocks. This construction process is close to the conventional home-building and needs almost the same amount of time.
1.2.3 - Prefabricated structural steel homes use steel for the principal structure and wall structure. It is lightweight, reduces the cost of piling and foundation, and minimises the construction period.
The work is quite neat, as a dry system is used. One note of caution: The internal structure is prone to rusting.
The above-mentioned prefab techniques are more well received in the housing-estate business, both for single houses and townhouses. They are suitable for a spacious construction site that can accommodate large machines. But these types of homes will pose problems for the housing business involved in building detached houses on private land where the construction site does not have much room for large machines, or are located in a soi or sub-soi, making it difficult to transport heavy equipment.
In addition to this, housing regulations, which are outdated and pending amendment for the past 30 years, pose a major threat to house construction in small areas of less than 40-50 square metres.
Therefore, the state authorities should pay attention to the amendment of these laws to meet present conditions, especially in Bangkok areas.
2. Reduce the use of conventional construction materials that rely on intensive labour but have deficiencies in use. For example, use gypsum wall instead of masonry; use doors and windows and frames made from uPVC (unplasticised polyvinyl chloride) or aluminium, or use prefabricated staircases and floors instead of structural wood, which are rare these days, and if they exist, their quality is poor. That is why it is time-consuming to come back several times to repair it and use intensive labour.
3. Divide the construction process into several phases, depending on the functional work such as roofing, masonry, door and window-frame installation, conduit laying, plumbing, ceramic and sanitaryware and painting. Each of these functional works requires skilled workers to finish it quickly and move on to other houses.
The upside is that this method ensures quality in the work and speedy execution but requires precision in planning and scheduling of each functional work.
All three recommendations must be carried out by the businesses themselves.
However, state support is still necessary to reform the laws concerning the hiring of foreign workers and the movement of labour within the country as well as housing and construction regulations. If the present problems related to labour management persist, Thailand will surely lose its competitive edge in the development of skilled labour in the construction sector.