18 August 2021

Tools remain on the ground as Barr says 'today's not the day' to relax construction bans

| Lottie Twyford
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Construction site

Construction has ground to a halt with the announcement of a three-week lockdown in the ACT. Photo: File.

A return to normality for the construction sector is unlikely in the coming days, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has flagged.

Over 1,000 construction workers having already been identified as close contacts, and in last week’s sweeping and immediate lockdown, all construction was shut down for a period of seven days, except for essential projects and emergency or essential work to maintain safety and security. This has since been extended to three weeks, ending, at this stage, on 2 September.

Today, the Chief Minister explicitly rejected calls from ACT Senator Zed Seselja to re-open construction sites.

In a letter to constituents, Senator Seselja said that in the most recent shutdowns in NSW and Queensland, the construction industry has continued to operate.

“The industry has responded to the pandemic by putting in place COVID-19 safety measures, just like they do for other dangers at their workplaces. Across Australia, we’ve seen very little evidence of breaches,” he said.

“The industry can operate safely while supporting the jobs of thousands of Canberrans who make a vital contribution to the economy and their local communities.”

Senator Seselja said he had written to Mr Barr, urging him to find a way to keep people in the building and construction industry working.

“He needs to act now to protect the workers and families who rely on the income they’re now losing. He needs to keep businesses open and the economy on track,” the senator said.

But at today’s press briefing, Mr Barr said that while the ACT Government continues to engage with the building industry, “we won’t put public health at risk and undo all the effort of the entire community to stamp out this outbreak”.

He understood that Senator Seselja was calling for a safe re-opening for the industry, but added: “if this is a political potshot, it is absolutely unnecessary, and Canberras would be disgusted by it … he’s playing some pretty ordinary politics, and the people of Canberra will judge him for what he’s just done.”

Michael Hopkins

Michael Hopkins says the MBA is working with the Government on transition plans to ensure construction work can resume safely. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Master Builders ACT CEO Michael Hopkins acknowledged that the Territory’s construction industry, which employs around 20,000 people, had been significantly impacted by the current lockdown.

According to Mr Hopkins, around 70 per cent of construction workers attend building sites every day, meaning they are unable to work at all during this time.

“For each week of lockdown, there is $70 million of construction work shut down and $20.7 million of local wages at risk,” he said.

READ ALSO YouTube architects cast fresh eyes on Canberra’s often-overlooked building marvels

Currently, the MBA is consulting with the ACT Government on how to safely and properly reopen the construction sector once it is safe.

“Transition plans are currently being worked on to determine how this can occur,” Mr Hopkins said.

ACT Policing is taking a no-nonsense approach to compliance in the sector, having issued six of eight compliance-related infringements on Sunday (15 August) in relation to a residential construction site in Taylor.

The ACT’s chief police officer subsequently said that officers would continue to work with WorkSafe ACT to conduct workplace compliance.

Both organisations remain on the lookout for any non-essential work being undertaken which could potentially be in breach of the public health directions, and any work being conducted during the lockdown needs prior approval from a WorkSafe ACT inspector.

READ MORE WorkSafe, police crack down on illegal construction work during lockdown

Construction businesses that meet certain eligibility requirements can access a range of local and Commonwealth support measures designed to ease the financial burden on businesses during the lockdown.

These measures have been expanded in light of the lockdown extension.

Individuals who have lost work due to the lockdown can access Commonwealth disaster payments at a rate of $750 a week for people who lose more than 20 hours a week and $450 for people who lose more than eight hours but less than 20, or a full day of usual work.

An additional $200 is available for anyone currently receiving an income support payment who loses eight or more hours of work a week or a full day of their usual work hours.

See the full range of business support measures and keep up to date with the latest health information on the ACT Government COVID-19 website.

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Lockdowns work when people stay at home.

Zed and the self-interested building lobyists, please look at Sydney and see what can happened with their softer lockdown.

Seeing as 4 exposure sites are electrical wholesalers probably best to keep construction lockdown for the time being.

Besides that what make construction so critical at this point in time. Plenty of other businesses would love to open too.

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