The last quarter of 2021 is shaping up to be a nail-biter. From Covid shutdowns to re-openings, reform, and an overhaul of the industry’s culture, we are in a sprint to the finish line and leaving no stone unturned.
The construction industry breathed a sigh of relief last week when the NSW Government announced the full reopening of sites across Sydney. The removal of the 50 per cent workforce cap reflects the positive response by construction workers to the call to get vaccinated but also the collaborative approach taken to reduce the risks of COVID transmission on sites. The process in NSW has truly shown that good outcomes can be achieved when everyone is aligned!
It is fair to say construction is now the exemplar industry in NSW having further tightened existing comprehensive protocols and implemented enhanced COVID-safe management plans. Staggered starts, sectioned zones, QR codes, Bluetooth tracking technology and most recently rapid antigen testing, have all been part of the solution.
Leading the initial Rapid Antigen Testing trials, members of the Australian Constructors Association have been instrumental in the broader adoption of surveillance testing as a further mechanism to detect potential risks. While the tightening of protocols has been part of the solution, the ultimate gamechanger has been strong vaccination rates.
Our approach to vaccinating the construction industry has been to encourage and facilitate. We are extremely proud of the efforts of our members who have been running awareness campaigns, toolbox information sessions with medical experts and offering paid time off to get vaccinated. Importantly, NSW construction workers are to be commended for responding to calls to ‘get the jab done.’
Our work does not stop here. Australian Constructors Association is continuing to meet with government and industry stakeholders to discuss the further relaxation of settings as more of the population are vaccinated.
Ironically, the day the NSW Government announced the removal of the workforce cap, Victoria announced a two-week shutdown. While there were multiple factors that led to the announcement, I feel compelled to point out that crib rooms on large building sites are subject to strict COVID-19 protocols including staggered meal breaks, social distancing, cleaning and ventilation, and carry a low risk of infection. With safety the number one priority, we are committed to working with government to allay concerns.
Speaking more broadly, the Australian Constructors Association is swinging into action to share the learnings of the NSW experience in preparation for Victoria’s reopening. Key discussions to take place beyond crib rooms include vaccination status verification, capacity, travel permits and close contacts.
We are committed to sharing this advice with industry and will be providing regular updates on our website and through LinkedIn.
The importance of the construction industry in rebuilding the Australian economy cannot be understated. All levels of government are relying on the construction industry to lead the economy forward on the basis that every dollar spent on infrastructure has a $3 kick on to the wider economy. The problems faced by our industry are well understood and the recently released Australian Infrastructure Plan demonstrates this.
The plan contains good recommendations that, if enacted, would improve industry culture, create increased capacity and capability, and ensure that commercial frameworks are equitable and align the interests of all parties. What we need now is for the Federal Government to get more involved. As the direct procurer of major projects and as a significant source of funding for jurisdictionally led projects, the Federal Government is best placed to coordinate and incentivise reform.
Importantly, we need government to implement reforms now—not in 5,10,15 years as the plan suggests. The much talked about government and industry collaborative leadership group is an example where a 5–10-year timeframe has been outlined yet this group could easily be established within months and positive outcomes achieved within a couple of years.
We have not lost sight of the report released earlier this year by Infrastructure Australia outlining the sporadic progress made since the 2016 Australian Infrastructure Plan. If timeframes are not brought forward, we again run the risk of a similar lack of progress in improving productivity and implementing market-based reform which will be a huge, missed opportunity.
It is fair to say that the task ahead is not just one for government to solve. We acknowledge that industry has a role to play, and shortly we will be releasing our response detailing the activities we are undertaking to shift the dial on reform.
Culture in construction
On the critical issue of health and wellbeing of our industry’s workforce, I am pleased to advise we are nudging closer to the consultation period for the Draft Culture Standard. This month the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce—a unique partnership between the Australian Constructors Association, industry leaders, the NSW and Victorian governments and academia—launched a major report demonstrating urgent change is needed to address cultural issues that are costing the economy nearly $8 billion annually due to workplace injuries, mental illness, suicide, long work hours and a lack of diversity.
The Cost of Doing Nothing report calculates that the estimated economic cost of lost wellbeing from work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses in 2018 was $6.1 billion; the productivity cost of employees consistently working overtime was $708 million; the cost of mental ill-health was $643 million and the cost of higher incidence of male construction worker suicides compared to other industries was $533 million. The report also highlighted that since 2006, construction has had the lowest female representation of any industry in Australia.
This report and other information about the Culture Standard are available on the new Culture in Construction website www.cultureinconstruction.com.au
#12percent women #wecandobetter
One of the major challenges our industry faces is gender diversity. Construction is the most male-dominated industry in Australia. Just 12 per cent of our workforce are women. We believe improving gender diversity in the construction industry will have a profound positive impact on industry culture. Committed to improving diversity, this month the Australian Constructors Association launched its ‘Women of the ACA’ initiative. Through this initiative we are showcasing the career paths of women from across our membership because you can’t be what you can’t see! We will be sharing the profiles of women in various roles to highlight the exciting opportunities in construction. Join us in supporting women in construction by engaging with our LinkedIn posts and visiting the webpage.
While we hope to inspire women to join the industry through our Women of the ACA initiative, we realise there are reasons for our failure to attract and retain female workers. One of the key themes in the new Culture Standard is diversity. The Culture Standard will seek to make workplaces more inclusive and encourage diversity, initially by setting targets to increase the representation of women, address gender pay gaps and to create a more inclusive working environment for all workers, regardless of gender, age, culture, or heritage.
Australian Construction Achievement Award
The call for entries for the 2022 Australian Construction Achievement Award (ACAA) will launch in October. The 2022 award promises to be even bigger and better with an exciting announcement to be made shortly. Stay tuned.