ACT Construction Industry Needs Interstate Workers Return

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Construction in ACT resumed a fortnight ago after a month-long hiatus, but the industry relies on interstate workers, many of whom cannot get into ACT, to complete projects.

As a result, total employment in the ACT construction industry fell to the second lowest level in three years, while the value of construction jobs increased by 20% since mid-2020, data shows. on ABS Jobs released this week.

Employment in ACT’s building and construction sector fell by almost a quarter, from 20,025 in May 2020 to 18,459 in May 2021, then to 15,331 in August, before the start of the ACT lockdown but while travel restrictions were in place from NSW. The total value of construction hit $ 676 million in June 2021, a 12-month average of nearly $ 250 million.

“These numbers mean that the local industry is building 20% ​​more with 25% less labor compared to just over a year ago,” said Michael Hopkins, CEO of Master Builders ACT .

Many workers live outside ACT, Mr Hopkins said: some in one of the 10 border postcodes that residents can enter, but many live in Cooma or Yass and cannot visit ACT for the moment. As ACT grows and some public infrastructure becomes larger and more complex, he said, construction industries have come to rely on skilled trades that come from Sydney or Melbourne. , or further.

“[The lockdown] has an impact on a number of projects under construction, ”said Mr. Hopkins.

“Because we had to lock down in such a short time frame, construction projects, like other businesses, came to a halt very quickly, and those workers or businesses that were halfway through a project usually left there. ‘ACT and returned home. And now that the industry has been able to restart, we are struggling to get those businesses and workers back, if they come from outside the 10 postcode area.

The MBA advocates for the ACT government to allow travel exemptions beyond the ACT zone and ZIP code 10 for critical trades and essential construction workers.

Mr Hopkins believes that as part of ACT’s roadmap to get out of lockdown, essential workers in low-risk NSW postcodes or local government areas should be able to enter the ACT, subject to the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

“This will certainly allow the workers who were working in ACT regularly to return to their jobs and complete a number of these larger projects that cannot be completed at the moment because they are relying on the trade or the subcontractor. . to come back from the highway.

The lockdown would have a devastating impact on all local small businesses, Mr Hopkins predicted, including construction companies. The construction industry is a large part of ACT’s economy – every dollar invested in construction has a multiplier effect of three dollars – but it includes at least 98% of small businesses.

“Small businesses will be the most affected by the foreclosure, as they are generally less likely to have large cash reserves and less likely to be able to afford not to have income for three or four weeks during the foreclosure,” Mr Hopkins said. .

The MBA advocates for financial support for local businesses. He encouraged his ACT-based members to access ACT government business support payments, but Hopkins hoped the government would introduce non-financial supports to support the industry’s recovery, such as fast-track development approvals and the unit titling step of a project (last step before the realization of an apartment or townhouse project, allowing the units to be installed). “Accelerating this process would help the cash flow of a local builder or developer,” he said.

They would also like the government to postpone or cancel rates, charges and taxes, and hope that they will not see significant increases in existing taxes, fees and charges.

The MBA also seeks to recover the costs of foreclosure and the costs of implementing construction requirements; the materials became much more expensive during that time, Mr Hopkins said.

“Particularly for ACT government projects, where the ACT government is the client, we hope they will understand the demands of contractors to deal with deadline extensions due to foreclosure or increased costs,” said Mr. Hopkins. “And we hope the ACT government, as a model customer, will work with local contractors to help them overcome all of the various impacts of the foreclosure on public infrastructure projects.”

But although the construction industry has been rocked, Mr Hopkins said the industry is also resilient. Last year he led ACT’s economic recovery, and he believes he can do it again.

“We hope that with the proper support from the government, our local industry will be able to weather the impacts of the foreclosure…

Until then, he said, the MBA members were happy to be working again. “We and them are focused on meeting ACT construction requirements and getting their projects back safely. “

However, Mr Hopkins said, labor limitations meant productivity was low, leading to project delays and price increases.

“Our message to everyone who has a home built or renovated right now is to be patient, to speak with their builder about the impacts of delays and cost increases, and to work with them to make sure their projects can. be completed. as quickly and as safely as possible.

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