Characterised by evolving restrictions as states grapple with COVID outbreaks, this past month has been challenging but, again, has demonstrated the power of collaboration.
Industry and government have come together to find pathways to reopen construction and, while there is still a way to go, I am optimistic our industry will come out the other side with a strong platform for much needed reform.
The Australian Constructors Association has been advocating for the construction industry to remain open during these latest outbreaks. COVID has devastated so many industries and livelihoods so why make a special case for construction to remain open? Construction is an industry that is all about managing risk. Its record of managing the risk of COVID transmission on worksites is exemplary. Since the start of the pandemic, very few cases have been reported on sites and where incidences have occurred, they have been well managed with almost no spread to the wider workforce. Very few other industries can make similar claims. That’s why, until recently, the construction industry has largely continued to operate throughout the pandemic in all states and territories. Sydney’s shutdown set a concerning precedent that has since been followed by SA and ACT.
Since the Sydney shutdown was announced in July, the construction industry has been working closely with government to further tighten the comprehensive COVID operating protocols and procedures already in place. Every construction site must adhere to a strict COVID-safe checklist of measures with one person per four-square-metre rule in effect. Existing measures such as QR codes and sectioning off sites into zones are already part of COVID-safe operating arrangements.
A gamechanger for the industry has been the introduction of rapid antigen testing. I am pleased to say our members have been instrumental in this process having run rapid antigen testing pilots on sites across Sydney which helped lead to the approval by the Chief Health Officer of a broader rollout of antigen testing across the NSW construction industry. The NSW Government has since released a Framework to guide the delivery of high quality, safe and appropriate rapid antigen screening for COVID.
With safety top of mind, the Australian Constructors Association is calling for a full re-opening of construction sites in Greater Sydney, Melbourne and the ACT. We need more hands on deck to deliver the planned pipeline of projects and keep the economy moving forward, but this does not need to come at the cost of the safety of the workforce or the wider population. The safety measures in place on the state’s construction sites are comprehensive and robust. Overlay these measures with antigen testing and onsite contact tracing measures, it would be hard to find a safer place to work.
The holy grail however is putting an end to restrictions and lockdowns. To do this we need more Australians to get vaccinated. Speaking on behalf of our members, the best way to achieve this is to encourage and facilitate vaccination. We think that equipping workers with information that will allay fears and improving access to vaccinations will help the construction industry rise up and lead the charge in rebuilding the economy.
In a practical sense, our members are running toolbox information sessions with medical experts to inform workers about the different vaccines available and the protection that they offer. For those who decide vaccination is for them, many of our members are offering paid time away from work to get vaccinated and we are exploring opportunities with the Federal Government to facilitate vaccinations on construction sites.
I would like to stress that we have been carefully navigating COVID restrictions to protect the sustainability of the entire industry, including the supply chain. We acknowledge the construction industry has a very long tail and we need to ensure all parts of the industry are supported so that we can spring back into action.
Culture in construction
At the Australian Constructions Association, we recognise that the culture of our industry affects everything that we do. We strongly believe that improved diversity, particularly gender diversity, will have a profound and positive impact on the culture of our industry, our interaction with key stakeholders and the success of our businesses and projects.
This month the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) released an important report on the barriers to female participation in male dominated industries. While the construction industry has made significant inroads into improving the inclusivity of its workplaces, more needs to be done.
We are working with NSW and VIC public sectors through the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce (CICT) to develop a Culture Standard to improve the culture of the construction industry. Standard will provide a framework for clients and contractors to work together to address significant challenges facing the industry, including ensuring appropriate amenities are provided on project sites.
Tying back to the ETU report, as part of the Culture Standard, organisations will develop an amenities plan tailored to the size and scale of the project by undertaking an assessment of the amenities required on the project to support participation of a diverse range of people in a safe and inclusive environment.
The Culture Standard will be released for public consultation in the coming months. In the meantime, I am pleased to advise that the CICT website has launched providing information on the Culture Standard: www.cultureinconstruction.com.au
Australian Construction Achievement Award
Construction is an industry that makes a crucial difference to our daily lives. Not only does the industry contribute to the economy and create jobs, it also positively impacts on the world around us. From skyscrapers, to roads, rail, hospitals, schools, museums and much more, the construction industry literally shapes our society. This makes our work rewarding, knowing that you have improved lives and left a legacy for the next generation to admire.
Speaking of leaving a legacy, I am pleased to say the winners of the 2020 and 2021 Australian Construction Achievement Award have been announced. The New Museum for WA in Perth, constructed by Multiplex and The Zero Cost Energy Future in South Australia, constructed by Enerven, have been announced as the 2020 and 2021 winners respectively at a major online industry event this month.
The Australian Construction Achievement Award is the peak annual award for the major players in Australia’s construction industry. The Award is fiercely contested by the largest construction and engineering businesses operating in Australia whose projects must first qualify to be finalists and then submit to the most rigorous assessment by an independent panel of experts.
Due to COVID, the Australian Constructors Association and Engineers Australia made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 and 2021 Melbourne Gala Dinner for the Australian Construction Achievement Award, later advising that 2020 and 2021 Award winners would be announced online on 26 August. A recording of the presentation event can be viewed on the event website: www.acaa.net.au
Without the support of our partners this event would not be possible and so with great gratitude I would like to thank Caterpillar, Cbus Super Fund, InfraBuild, Holcim, Oracle Construction and Engineering for their support.
Looking beyond the reopening of the sector, the Australian Constructors Association is turning a keen eye to the imminent release of Infrastructure Australia’s Infrastructure Plan. There has never been a more important time for a plan like this. Having engaged with Infrastructure Australia in the development of the plan we are expecting to see recommendations that, if enacted, would address and strengthen the three industry sustainability pillars of: a positive industry culture; sufficient capability, capacity and skills; and equitable and aligned commercial frameworks.
To achieve this, the Federal Government needs to get more involved and coordinate and incentivise reform. If this happens our industry will have a much brighter future.