Building industry unites to oppose COVID-19 shutdown

Heavyweight unions and peak building groups, more often at war than not, are uniting behind a bid to keep construction under way and building sites open during Victoria’s harsh stage four lockdown.

Ahead of Victoria's government outlining today which businesses will be impacted under ramped-up restrictions, the Urban Development Institute of Australia is pitching a nine-point plan to keep the state’s construction industry safe and open.

The Premier Tower construction site is shut down.Credit:Joe Armao

"We are urging the government to keep the industry open as an essential industry, but with enhanced worksite management practices and mandatory, consistent contact tracing," UDIA boss Dani Hunter said in a letter to Premier Daniel Andrews.

Some of the worksite changes proposed by the industry body include: split shifts on all construction sites; extending worksite hours; mandatory use of contact tracing apps to keep tabs on workers; and immediate shutdown if COVID-19 is detected.

Construction employees are five times less likely to contract COVID-19 than the rest of Victoria’s population, the UDIA argues. "Since the start of the pandemic, a total of 34 building, construction and development sites have reported employees known to have contracted COVID-19, and only four of these sites appear to have reported on-site transmission," it said.

In a show of just how united Victoria’s fractious building industry has become in the face of the pandemic, the UDIA has co-signed another memo to Premier Daniel Andrews with the militant CFMEU, three other major unions, the Property Council of Australia and several other industry bodies.

"We have taken a united leadership role in the development of the coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines for the building, construction and development industry which have been adopted and agreed by unions and industry associations and endorsed by the Building Industry Consultative Council," the letter sent last Friday said.

"With the damaging effects of this pandemic, the building, construction and development industry now represents 13 per cent of the state’s GDP, almost 15 per cent of employment and is critical to the Victorian economy and its pathway to recovery," it said.

The letter details initiatives adopted by key players to keep the building sector open through the pandemic. It was signed by Master Builders Victoria, CFMEU, National Electrical & Communications Association, Electrical Trades Union, Master Plumbers, Plumbing and Pipe Trades Union, Civil Contractors Federation, Australian Metal Workers Union, UDIA and Property Council.

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