28 Apr 2020

Construction sector appeals for government financial backing

6:27 pm on 28 April 2020

The construction sector is worried about the future of its workforce, as clients wait to see how the economic crisis shakes down.

Skookum Construction director Cameron Horne

Skookum Construction director Cameron Horne Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

Most in the sector are back on site today under alert level 3; some are on the tools and others trying to work out how they can do so safely.

But there are fears the pipeline of jobs might dry up.

Skookum Construction director Cameron Horne welcomed returning to work on a renovation job in Auckland's Herne Bay.

"It's good to be back at work and earning money again, but [it was] pretty valuable time to spend with the family too."

He said the work environment is a little bit different to when they left.

"We try to do the distancing thing, we're having to wear masks and gloves and wash our hands regularly, and sign-in/sign-out boards. You can no longer leave site and come back. So home made lunches, stay healthy."

Horne said while they have managed to pick up this job where they left off, the future's not so clear.

"A lot of people are a little bit hesitant to commit at the moment with the financial situation and also with their jobs," he said.

"We've had our next jobs basically put on hold - we don't have a job to go to after this unfortunately. A bit of a waiting game, I guess."

It's something a lot of the industry is grappling with - to what extent the scale of the economic downturn will hit different areas of the sector.

Construction Industry Council chair David Kelly, who is also chief executive of the Registered Master Builders Association, said how many future projects will come through the pipeline was unknown.

"The big issues are the forward work programme. [I'm] not hearing a lot of drop offs for confirmed clients who had already completed design. It's really those future clients, that's where the big focus will turn to over the next few weeks," Kelly said.

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The forward work programme is among worries for the Master Builders Association. Photo: RNZ

One large company - Naylor Love - has already had a commercial client press pause, and was worried another might do the same.

Chief executive Rick Herd said while the government is able to fund and fast track public sector jobs like schools, hospitals and roads, the private sector doesn't have the same security of funding.

He worried about job losses at scale if there isn't financial stimulus for private construction from the government.

"It's certainly a possibility if there's no means to effectively stimulate private sector investment," Herd said.

"We need to see some positive action in the next two or three weeks or month to see what actually [the government is] going to do to stimulate that private sector investment."

Kelly said the next 12 to 18 months will be critical, as an industry with half a million people directly and indirectly employed watches on.

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