As the world grapples with the ever-changing landscape created by Covid-19, the Australian construction industry is positioned to be a major contributor to retaining employment and injecting much-needed funds into local economies in the coming months and years.
McNab Construction Manager Carl Nancarrow said he was thankful that the Australian Government continued to identify construction as essential, given the industry employs approximately 1.2 million people (ABS trend data), which accounts for 9.2 per cent of the total workforce.
“There are hundreds of thousands of workers across Australia who have tragically lost their jobs over the past week in other industries. We absolutely take the view that we have a responsibility to ensure our sites stay open so we can continue to offer employment to the thousands of workers who contribute to our projects across SEQ each and every day. We owe it to them and their families” Mr Nancarrow said.
“In some ways the construction industry is fortunate as we are highly experienced in dealing with risk assessments and implementing workplace health and safety measures as a part of our daily operations. Creating new procedures and policies and enforcing them is something our workforce is used to as part of our regular working landscape.
“Our top priority has always been the wellbeing and safety of our staff, subcontractors and suppliers. In the case of this pandemic, this is no different and we have taken unprecedented measures to protect our staff in the workplace and to keep our projects progressing.
“Across Queensland we currently have 40 projects underway or due to commence worth over $800m to the local economy during the construction phase alone, and will keep the hundreds of trades we use locally earning an income. That’s something we are really committed to delivering and it has therefore been necessary to change the way we work.
“The Prime Minister and Chief Health Minster were very clear in their address to the nation that keeping the economy going and beating Covid-19 are not mutually exclusive. We can do both.
“Key to this are the stringent social distancing measures we’re taking on our sites, as well as the response we get from all other stakeholders and the community. There will be disruptions, some sites will be starting early or working back late. This is so we can stagger our work crews and keep people employed. We ask the community to be patient and understanding. We will need local and state governments to fast track approvals and get shovel ready projects going. We ask all government agencies to do whatever they can to get approvals off their desks.
“We are taking a whole-of-team approach and the levels of cooperation from our subcontractors and suppliers has been outstanding. We’re in it together and if across the industry we can keep our workforce healthy and operational we can continue to keep thousands of local tradies and suppliers employed at a time when many others are losing their jobs.
“At McNab we have established an internal taskforce which meets at the start and end of every day to review individual projects and determine what additional measures we can take to protect the health of workers while also maintaining productivity. We understand there will be delays, but we can only work as hard as possible to minimise these and reduce the impact on our workforce.
“This is a collaborative approach between our dedicated team of over 300 McNab staff members across South East Queensland and the 2,000-plus trades and suppliers we work with on the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Toowoomba.
“If we all share a commitment to adhere to the guidelines, our industry can make a vital contribution to our economy in the times ahead.”
Master Builder’s Regional Manager Will Wilson comments on the position of the construction industry given the social distancing and recent shutdowns of industries across Australia to limit the transmission of Covid-19.
“It is encouraging that construction continues to be recognised as an essential service under the current Federal Government shutdowns, which means that we can, and are continuing to work,” Mr Wilson said.
“While so many other vital industries have been shut down, the nature of what we do, both in our workplace and as a significant driver of the economy, means that we must continue to work and contribute to our struggling local economy.
“The industry is working together to implement drastic changes to respect the physical distancing and hygiene requirements and while this is impacting on productivity and the speed at which we can deliver, we are able to continue operations onsite.
“We have reached out to Council to relax the current time restrictions on construction work so that we can continue to keep as many people working as possible, while adhering to the physical distancing requirements.
“While I understand that extending working times might impact on those in the areas surrounding construction sites, it also allows us to maximise the impact of physical distancing measures by reducing the number or workers on site at any one time. I urge the community to consider the contribution that those who are still working are making to the local economy.
“This is not just their ability to earn their own pay cheques, but these are also the people who keep the café that has managed to downscale and provide takeaways operating in these tough times.
“If we can extend working hours to compensate for the extra time taken to adhere to physical distancing — such as limiting the people who can access construction lifts, staggering break times and additional hygiene measures — we can ensure people keep their jobs and do not add to the current drain on our welfare system, which is going to be vastly overwhelmed with the current restrictions.
“These workers will be doing their small part to keep a sector of our economy slowly ticking along so that when we get to the other end of this crisis, it does not take as long to get it up and running again.
“Construction workers are not doctors and nurses or emergency service workers, but they have been nominated as Essential Service workers.
“Please be happy when you see or hear an operational building site. Yes, construction workers are the lucky ones who can still work, however we’ll all benefit in the long run if they can continue to work as much as possible in these uncertain times.”