Construction sites can provide a shot in the arm for our state’s recovery as the COVID pandemic continues to cut through swathes of the economy.
The sector has shown its resilience after being thrown the hospital pass by government of an abrupt two-week shutdown in July. The sector scrambled to make sites secure, reschedule projects and break the bad news to thousands of their workers.
The shutdown was a double blow considering how much of our economic catchup from the earlier 2020 lockdown was being led by the property industry. We must ensure the industry is in a strong position to underwrite that recovery again as we emerge from this lockdown.
Since the two-week blanket ban was lifted the sector has leant into the challenge, implementing a range of COVID-safe plans including the use of QR codes, contact tracing, on-site Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) where appropriate, contactless delivery and deep cleaning.
It is critical the NSW Government increases construction worksite capacity back to 100 percent immediately. Otherwise, we are putting at risk the two things NSW residents so dearly value during a pandemic: jobs and homes.
With worksite capacity capped at 50 per cent combined with a ‘vaccine overlay’ – whereby only fully vaccinated construction workers (or workers with one jab and a negative test) from LGAs of concern are able to work onsite – the message has been clear: jabs for jobs.
The message has been received and the uptake of the vaccine has been overwhelming in the construction sector. Industry has literally rolled up its sleeves in arguably the most successful vaccination scale-up underway in Australia.
In usual times, over 250,000 construction workers report to site to build the homes our state so desperately needs, the public transport our growing population demands, and the hospitals we know are critical to our state’s wellbeing and prosperity.
But now we are at the point where there are fully vaccinated tradies who have done the right thing but are being locked out of worksites due to the arbitrary 50 per cent cap on capacity.
While the idea of a half-capacity pegging may sound reasonable to some, it is impractical and provides a logistical migraine for managers juggling numerous trades and contractors throughout any given day who have already done so much.
There are many sites that are physically too small to make it worthwhile operating at half-capacity. And there is the broader question of why open-air greenfield construction projects on the outskirts of greater Sydney should be treated the same as an interior renovation job in the inner city.
We know that Sydney’s housing crisis is not meeting the Government’s own target of 42,000 new homes per year even without migration. These restrictions on worksites are a further handbrake on housing supply and will impact housing affordability. We are about to walk over an “apartment cliff” which will only heighten the issue of housing affordability.
The construction sector not only answered the Government’s call but blazed the trail for vaccine acceleration that other sectors can now follow. It is high time for the Government to answer the construction sectors call and open worksites up to full capacity in recognition of the immense work done to date on safety.
Jobs and homes have never been more important to NSW residents than during this pandemic, and the property and construction sector stands ready to safely deliver both which can be done at full capacity.
By Luke Achterstraat, Executive Director, Property Council of Australia