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Sydney builders scramble to close up ahead of two-week shutdown in construction sector

When Nick Abraham got an unexpected phone call from his mum on Saturday morning, he ignored it.

But the builder’s inbox was soon inundated with messages and emails about the looming shutdown of construction in Greater Sydney from Monday until 30 July.

Just over two hours after the announcement by the Premier, he was back on-site with a small crew of employees and subcontractors, wrestling with a tarp in windy conditions to seal up a home renovation on the city’s North Shore.

“It’s been a scramble, just trying to figure out how we were going to manage,” he told SBS News.

“It’s really just racing to get the roof on, if we can possibly do it; and then if not, we have to come up with some other solution.”

Nick Abraham

Nick Abraham, founder of Interlock Construction

SBS News

Once the new measures come into force, Mr Abraham’s workers won’t be allowed onto the site until at least August.

He operates Interlock Construction, a small firm of around 10 full-time staff and a pool of around 20 contractors, with offices in Australia and Nepal.

Mr Abraham said he planned to support all his impacted employees and hopes to arrange some assistance for his contractors.

A crew member

A crew member at Interlock Construction

SBS

“Everyone was wondering what financial assistance they’re going to receive, and we told everyone like we’ll pay the wages, it’s all good,” Mr Abraham said.

“We’ll figure it out and when we get the information – as it gets revealed to us from the government – I’m sure there’ll be some subsidies.”

“The Premier and Dr Kerry Chant have been doing a great job with the information they have at the time.”

The construction industry has been allowed to operate throughout the pandemic, including during Melbourne’s second wave.

Canterbury-Bankstown community ‘hurting’

But concerns over the transmission of the Delta COVID-19 variant have forced authorities to step in. The decision is expected to cost the state economy between $800 million to $2 billion a week.

“There is no sugar-coating this. It is a devastating impact for all businesses across New South Wales and Australia,” Business NSW CEO Daniel Hunter said.

Councillor of Canterbury-Bankstown Khal Asfour.

Mayor of Canterbury-Bankstown Khal Asfour.

Canterbury-Bankstown Council Facebook Page.

Canterbury-Bankstown Mayor Khal Asfour said the shutdown of construction would have a significant impact on his community, which is already subject to additional restrictions limiting work and movement.

“Our communities are full of labourers, trainees, electricians, plumbers,” he said.

“What this is going to mean is our communities, our families aren’t going to be able to put food on the table. Our community is hurting. I know they’re gonna be hurting more by this decision.”

Ms Berejiklian acknowledged that the decision will have a large impact on the construction sector. 

“We know this is a big decision. We know the impact this will have on businesses small and large. But we really need to reduce mobility and we need to reduce the chances of anybody adding the virus in their workplace, spreading it to work colleagues and then bringing it home.”

“Non-urgent repairs, any form of building, renovation, construction, maintenance including cleaners into the home or workers into home will not be allowed for all of Greater Sydney until July 30.”

Calls for return of JobKeeper as non-essential retail businesses close

Ahead of the shutdown of construction, non-essential retail will be forced to close for face-to-face interaction from Sunday.

Mr Hunter welcomed the decision to define what is considered non-essential as opposed to relying on the discretion of individual businesses.

But he warned more pain was ahead for those forced to close.

“We’ve done surveys that show that 1 in 5 businesses across New South Wales only have enough cash flow to last the next month,” he said.

“That means that businesses will close, jobs will be lost and people will lose their livelihoods.”

The stay-at-home orders for coronavirus-hit Greater Sydney and surrounds have been tightened including a pause on all construction work until the end of July.

The stay-at-home orders for coronavirus-hit Greater Sydney and surrounds have been tightened including a pause on all construction work until the end of July.

AAP

Unions said the extensive business closures strengthen the case to revive the Jobkeeper wage subsidy scheme.  

“Today’s shutdown of construction and non-essential retail means JobKeeper must be revived to give workers and employers across Sydney certainty and security rather than ambiguity and confusion,” Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey said.

“The combined effect of closing retail, construction, hospitality, events and other industries is a mammoth hit to household incomes.

“We also need proper pandemic and vaccine leave for people who have to isolate or get vaccinated. The current system is a hodge-podge, with far too many Sydney workers falling through the cracks.”

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