Wrecking ball: Construction lockout tipped to cost $500m a day

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Victoria’s building industry says the tougher lockdown announced for Melbourne on Monday will add more than $500 million a day to the economic cost of the state’s latest COVID-19 outbreak.

Major building jobs will be limited to 25 per cent of their usual workforce on site, while smaller projects will have a cap of just five people on the job at a time, as part of the raft of tighter restrictions in force from midnight.

Master Builders Association chief executive Rebecca Casson says th sector has a good record for COVID-19 infection control.Credit:Scott McNaughton

The Master Builders Association of Victoria says tens of thousands of construction workers will be stood down, with the loss of up to $63 million a day in wages, while about $455 million in revenue will be lost daily to the industry more broadly.

The grocery trade will also be hit by the tougher lockdown, with hundreds of supermarkets reducing their opening hours to comply with the 9pm-to-5am curfew.

Coles and Woolworths confirmed their Melbourne stores would be closing no later than 8.30pm while the night stay-at-home orders were in force.

A Woolworths spokesperson said the chain had plenty of stock and discouraged customers from panic buying.

The state government flagged that a fresh round of business support would be announced on Wednesday, and the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it would be badly needed.

“The COVID-19 wrecking ball continues with the news that lockdown six will be extended and strengthened including the introduction of a curfew. Victorians have done it so tough: so many businesses, jobs and livelihoods have been lost while we’ve endured months of lockdowns,” chamber chief executive Paul Guerra said.

“Even more financial support will be needed to help business get through, but we know the cost of this extension will be measured in mental health and social impacts as well as economic terms.”

Master Builders of Victoria chief executive Rebecca Casson said she understood the reasons for the tougher lockdown but said it was “disappointing” for an industry that had a good record for COVID-19 infection control.

“Our sector has a strong proven track record of keeping work sites safe,” she said. “This can be demonstrated by the cases of COVID-19 on work sites being very small in comparison to overall cases in the Victorian community.

“Even at the height of the pandemic in 2020, the ratio of building and construction cases compared to the wider community was one to 7.5.”

The Urban Development Institute of Australia, representing the residential development sector, called for a clear plan to get the industry back to work once safe.

“We hope that today’s announcement is matched by a pathway to return the industry to full strength as soon as possible, reflecting its commitment to COVID-safe practices and its world-class industry and union co-operation to keep work sites safe,” chief executive Matthew Kandelaars said.

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