It’s tools down for trades

It's tools down for construction, with the industry shut down in metropolitan Melbourne and other Local Government Areas currently in lockdown for two weeks from 11.59pm, Monday 20 September.

By Renee Wood

Many construction workers awoke to the news today their industry was going into a two week shut down, Healesville builder Neil Schalken was one of those with two projects now on hold.

“The decision was surprising to me, it seems like a bit of a knee jerk reaction,” Neil Schalken said.

Crisis meetings with the building industry, State Government and health officials were conducted last night with the official statement from the State Government released just before 10pm.

It followed a day of violent protests in Melbourne’s CBD, with demonstrators against restrictions being enforced on the industry, one of those being mandatory vaccinations.

“How many hundreds of thousands of trades are affected by probably 500 protesters – that’s probably the hardest for anyone to swallow.”

The State Government said it also took swift action in response to rising cases on large building sites and non-compliance with health orders including mask wearing.

“We’ve been clear: if you don’t follow the rules, we won’t hesitate to take action – we have seen widespread non-compliance across the industry and that’s why we’re taking necessary steps to protect every single Victorian,” Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas said.

“We put the industry on notice just a week ago, we have seen appalling behaviour on site and on our streets, and now we’re acting decisively and without hesitation.”

But many feel the whole industry shouldn’t be grouped into one, with different work settings considered lower risks of spreading Covid-19.

“I can understand it being justified for big commercial sites and the likes, but the the housing sector or the cottage industry, as a lot of people call it – it’s a completely different playing field altogether,” Mr Schalken said.

Neil Schalken Homes has two housing builds that have been stopped and will see delays – two of thousands in the Greater Melbourne area that will have flow on affects to suppliers, sub contractors and clients.

“It’s already a battle with materials, supplies, labor and material costs constantly on the rise as well and to now put another spoke in the wheel, and flow on effects not only to the client, but also other smaller trades – cabinet makers, painters, tilers, it’ll go right down the chain unfortunately,” Neil Schalken said.

“A lot of clients they’re paying interest or they’ve outlaid money for half a project, and everyone likes it to be built in a reasonable, efficient, quick time without these hindrances.”

Construction work on community facilities, including Emerald SES’ new station, have been stopped.

Emerald SES Unit Controller Ben Owen said it was due to be completed in the next two weeks but many are in the same boat.

“It’s annoying but we’re not worse off compared to families not getting their homes built or a small family where dad is a builder so we aren’t affected that way,” Unit Controller Ben Owen said.

“It’s just another two weeks, if all goes well, on a great long line we have been waiting all these years for.

The new facility will support 65 active volunteers to train and prepare for emergencies and there is potential works can continue under the government’s exemptions for health and safety projects.

“We can’t train at the moment so it’s just another added pressure on the members. The service is trying to get around that because it’s critical that we train.”