Covid 19: Industry Input to Government Response
The nationwide lockdown has immediately halted almost all construction in New Zealand. During Wekk 2 of the Level 4 lockdown, Under Construction spoke with two industry representatives about what their members think of the lockdown and what is being done to be ready for a return to work when it is lifted.
The construction industry is fortunate to have an already established direct line of communication with Government, in the form of the Construction Sector Accord. Comprised of representatives of key components of the construction industry, the Accord allows the industry to maintain ongoing contact with Government during the lockdown, ensuring its views are heard. The two industry representatives Under Construction spoke with are members of the Construction Accord Steering Group.
Views on lockdown
Graham Burke is chair of the New Zealand Construction Industry Council, President of NZ Specialist Trade Contractors Federation (STCF) and a member of the Construction Accord Steering Group. He explained that there is a mix of views from members of the STCF about what should happen during the lockdown.
“Some want to be back at work now, because the financial threat to their business is top of their minds, while others believe the lockdown is more important to protect human life and think that the industry will come out stronger if we can stamp down Covid-19 now,” said Burke.
Burke also made clear that while some who are in lockdown would like to be back at work now, others who remain working feel differently.
“Some essential service construction workers don’t want to be at work now – basically because they’re worried about getting sick or infecting their family members. So, there is definitely a wide range of views within the industry about what should be happening now.”
Registered Master Builders Chief Executive David Kelly is also a member of the Construction Accord Steering Group and shared his views on what members of Registered Master Builders were most concerned about.
“Our members basically have two concerns: first the danger to life – that is seen as the most important issue. Next is the danger to their business,” said Kelly. “This concern extends beyond the lockdown period, as many are concerned about whether customers will want to go ahead with projects they’d planned before Covid-19 when the lockdown is lifted.
“Our members understand the lockdown is necessary, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worried about their businesses. “
Kelly had also had feedback from members who don’t want to return to work earlier than everyone else, for fear of becoming infected or infecting others in their ‘bubble’.
Post Level 4 lockdown
According to both Burke and Kelly, what happens after the Level 4 lockdown is arguably the most important issue. Burke has clear views on what the industry should be focused on.
“What we are best to do, as an industry, is get things in order for a return to work, when it is safe to do so, and to be prepared to work safely when we do go back to work,” he said. “There are practical things than can be done on building sites to increase safety and questions business owners will need to ask their staff – such as finding out if any of their staff are immuno-compromised, or if any of their immediate family members are.”
To help the sector prepare, members of the Construction Accord are working to release guidance on what construction work would look like at various alert levels before the lockdown is lifted. Burke explained:
“We want to ensure that industry members are informed, prepared and ready to go right away. In this regard, it might help builders to know that the Government is listening to our input. We are meeting regularly, sometimes twice a day, with government officials and ministers, and our views are being listened to carefully.
“For example, it’s clear that the Government is aware that maintaining consumer confidence is going to be crucial to ensuring future work keeps coming down the pipeline, so people still want to start new jobs. There is a real risk that we lose that confidence, but I am hopeful we can retain it and get the industry working quickly and back to profitability as soon as possible.”
Similarly, Kelly also believes the Accord is proving valuable in planning the next steps.
“I believe the Accord has been a great asset for channelling our industry’s view to the Government and I have been equally pleased with the way the Government has listened to our input. I’ve also heard from members that accessing the financial support available to them has been done without red tape and arrived in their bank accounts quickly, which is a small piece of good news among all this.
“The next steps will be figuring out what Level 3 will look like for us an industry. What will we be able to do, and how will we go about doing it? There will be health and safety practicalities that need to be managed – that is what we are working on now and we expect to have advice out to builders soon.”
Taking care of business
Lastly, Burke had some suggestions for what builders can focus on now, while unable to work.
“As for individual business owners right now, if they have downtime, I think working on business processes could be a valuable use of time. Many in our industry don’t often have the chance to sit down and reflect on how systems can be improved. If you have apprentices, they can be completing course work – it may not be able to be marked, but it will be ready when the lockdown is lifted.”
Under Construction will continue to monitor and report on developments for the construction industry under lockdown and what post-lockdown might entail.