Does the punishment fit the crime? Five major implications of shutting down the entire construction industry

construction industry

Leonie Akhidenor. Source: supplied.

It is incredibly disappointing that an industry of 300,000 workers are being punished for the acts of a few, with approximately 2,000 taking to the streets to protest the shutdown of the Victorian construction industry last week.

I don’t condone violence, but does the punishment fit the crime? Should an entire sector be shutdown overnight?  

I acknowledge that we have been the fortunate industry throughout this lockdown. The first time our industry was put on notice was a week ago and we continued to receive emails urging us to implement and follow COVID-safe procedures strictly. Then the violence struck.

A final warning would have been fair. Increasing security inspections at sites would have been fair. Arresting law dis-abiding citizens would have been more than fair. Shutting down an entire industry overnight to me feels drastic. 

Why? When you shut down construction suddenly the implications are ten-fold, including: 

  • Material wastage. Many materials left on site, exposed to the elements such as brick sand, will not survive a two-week period. Then there’s the challenge of re-ordering materials in an environment where material shortages are becoming increasingly common; 
  • Time to completion blow outs. It goes without saying that time to complete homes will be extended. Trying to schedule trades in following lockdown will be incredibly challenging. Many trades will have competing commitments. Do they go to the site they had booked during lockdown? Or do they go to the site they had scheduled  following lockdown? This challenge is compounded by the restriction of having no more than five trades on site, plus supervisor, for small scale construction;
  • Buyers are forced to extend existing rents as homes are not ready by the agreed anticipated timeframe. Some buyers may not have the ability to extend rents, some may not have budget to do so. Where does that leave them?;
  • Security issues. Almost completed brand new homes — filled with appliances, fixtures and fittings — are left vacant with no one checking on them for a two-week period. In construction, we are no stranger to vandalism and this further increases the chance of such acts occurring; and
  • Financial stress. Holding costs increase the longer it takes to construct. Wages still need to be paid. For subcontractors, they don’t get paid if they don’t work.  

Ultimately if the government were to insist on locking down the industry, I believe it could have done so with a day or two-lead time, to enable the relevant safety and security measures to be put in place across all sites.

Let’s hope that tempers diminish and we can safely open up the industry again in two-weeks time, so that we don’t further impact the one in three Victorian’s employed in the construction industry — let alone the countless buyers who are eager to move into their new homes.  

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