Construction body calls for non-essential building work to cease

A body representing 800 firms in the north's building sector has called for all non-essential construction work to cease
Ryan McAleer

SOME major firms across the manufacturing and building sectors continued to operate yesterday, as the north’s biggest construction body called for all non-essential building work to cease.

Both sectors were omitted from Government guidance issued on Monday night, recommending the types of businesses and premises deemed non-essential, calling on them to close immediately.

The lack of clarity for construction and manufacturing firms left business bodies to issue their own guidelines on Tuesday.

The Construction Employers Federation, which represents 800 firms around the north, said: “It is our view that, with the exception of essential works in support of the fight against Covid-19, non-essential construction work should cease.”

In the manufacturing sector, Bombardier, Decora and Camden were among the firms that have already moved to keep thousands of staff home yesterday. But many others, including US-owned Terex, which employs 1,800 people in the north, was among the companies to remain open.

Industry lobby group Manufacturing NI set the following test for firms on Tuesday: The body said companies should assess whether some part (or people) within the business is directly or indirectly supporting life-sustaining and necessary parts of the economy or public services.

“If the answer is yes, then you could choose to keep going. If the answer is no, then the Government expect you to close.”

The business group further stated: “Can you do it safely with 100 per cent compliance with hygiene and distancing advice? If the answer this yes, then you could choose to keep going, If the answer is no, they expect you to close.”

The CEF similarly said only construction firms involved in supporting health, emergency services and works essential to public, should continue. In such cases, it called for employers to ensure the safety of workers and follow all guidance stringently.

“At the same time we recognise the immediate impact on families of the many thousands of self-employed workers and so we would reiterate our calls on the government to implement a similar financial support package to that already announced for salaried workers,” said the body.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone, who chairs Stormont’s all party group on construction, said the UK Government’s advice had created confusion.

“I have been contacted by construction businesses today who aren’t sure what they should do to keep their employees safe. Not least of all because many suppliers have closed their doors.”

The CEF’s statement was also backed by the Unite Union, who called for further financial support from the Executive for construction workers.

The union’s regional officer Michael Keenan described the instructions from Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday night as “hugely ambiguous”.

“It left workers in the construction sector involved in non-essential contracts still being asked to turn out for work today as their sector weren't included in the UK-wide lockdown,” he said.

"It is simply not possible to guarantee social distancing of workers on a construction site. Equipment is shared between workers meaning the risk of transmission is high. There is an urgency to ensure all construction sites which are not involved in essential works are shutdown across Northern Ireland.”

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