Industry responds to NSW construction sector pause

Work is set to commence on project, which involves rebuilding sections of Warrabungle Street for the new bridge across the railway line at Gunnedah, NSW.As the construction industry in the Greater Sydney area goes through a 14-day halt on all activities, the industry is hoping the impacts will be short-lived.

The construction industry was given less than 48 hours on Saturday to prepare for a two-week shutdown after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced a decision to tighten restrictions in the city to bring COVID-19 infections numbers down. All construction work and non-urgent maintenance will be paused in the Greater Sydney area for two weeks.

Dr James Cameron, Executive Director, Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) was hopeful the impact to the industry would be short-lived.

“The experience in Victoria shows that the impacts on infrastructure projects were not long term, and hopefully this will be the experience in NSW also,” he told Roads & Infrastructure. 

With ACIF members comprising some of the most significant associations in the industry, spanning the entire asset creation process from feasibility through design, cost planning, construction and building and management, Dr Cameron said the impact would be felt differently by each ACIF member association.

“On the whole, the impact will of course be negative.”

Though confident about the industry’s resilience, Dr Cameron warned of “potential insolvencies” if the industry shut down persists.

“The longer the shut down of the construction industry persists, the more financial cost it will bring to the industry, and potential insolvencies may result.

“The construction industry takes safety very seriously, and it would be preferable for the NSW Government to work with industry to find ways to keep the industry running, given its importance to the state’s economy,” he suggests.

Adrian Dwyer, Chief Executive of infrastructure industry think tank, Infrastructure Partnership Australia, has called for the government to make a distinction between large-scale construction sites and other environments as it begins the re-opening.

“The infrastructure sector respects the NSW Government’s decision and understands why the Cabinet felt it was a necessary step to minimise movements in the community,” he noted in a statement on Saturday.

“As the government considers ways to reopen construction, it needs to acknowledge the critical distinction between large-scale heavily controlled construction sites and other environments. In short, construction should be the first cab off the rank.

“Large-scale civil construction sites have the most sophisticated health and safety controls and site entry mechanisms of virtually any workplace in the country. “It is harder to get onto and move around a large-scale construction site than it is to get into a hospital,” he noted.

Brandon Hitch, Chief Executive Officer, The Crane Industry Council of Australia (CICA) said the pause in the construction sector was detrimental to CICA members, noting that everyone in the industry would need to support one another.

“It is not just a matter of turning the tap ‘on’ and ‘off’. The skilled personnel and advanced equipment required to support these projects come at a significant investment for SME businesses. These businesses have fixed costs that need to be paid, irrespective of whether or not the work is flowing through the pipeline. Juggling their own business affairs with concern about the impact of this pause on their employees, puts an inordinate amount of pressure on our members and we will be doing all we can to support them through this,” he noted.

“I have no doubt the Crane Industry will rally to support one another through this construction pause and pandemic to come out the other side stronger,” he added.

Engineers Australia is another industry body whose members are impacted by the halt.

“There is no question that halting projects will have financial consequences and see project managers having to adjust timeframes. As well as the repercussions on cost and time, uncertainty can cause distress in the market and on individuals working in the sector,” Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans told Roads & Infrastructure. 

“However, a delay of two weeks will assist in guarding against extended delays in this industry and may offer some protection in other industries from prolonged and detrimental lockdown. The effects on productivity caused by restrictions are not limited to the construction industry, so safeguarding workers in one occupation offers greater protection across the market,” she notes.

Overall, she is supportive of the pause, noting that the “go slow to go fast approach” is a sensible decision.

“This is a pause to protect initiative, and if successful, will be better than the long term impacts of further outbreaks and associated lockdowns,” she notes.

“While there are existing reform measures required to shore up resilience in the sector, the go slow to go fast approach is sensible given the potential for far worse outcomes without adequate mitigation measures in place.”


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