The reopening of the entire construction industry on June 1 under Alert Level 3, instead of the initial suggestion of a staggered approach, caught many companies by surprise, says Master Builders Association for the Western Cape (MBAWC).
“Although the return to work was universally welcomed, the speed at which it happened meant many companies had to go into overdrive in order to prepare to reopen and to tackle some challenges as a result of lockdown”, says MBAWC executive director Allen Bodill.
“For example, securing the necessary personal protection equipment and implementing required safety measures was a challenge considering the financial losses construction businesses had suffered during lockdown.”
In order to comply with government safety regulations, construction companies had to source and provide two cloth masks per employee, bulk hand-sanitiser and handheld thermometers, in addition to many other costly measures, notes Bodill.
It was also essential for construction companies to have safety plans in place. This proved to be another hurdle the industry had to overcome, he adds.
“The legislation around workplace safety was only finally published on June 3 and companies had to scramble to get their plans ready in time. Many had to consult with professional construction industry safety agents to ensure their plans aligned with regulations, which also represented additional costs.”
This prompted the MBAWC to send out a template workplace plan to their members, with the association continuously advising them via newsletters of changes in legislation.
There has been some progress for construction businesses in terms of Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) – Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) payments, following a struggle to secure this money, says Bodill.
“The MBAWC has been working with the Western Cape government’s Red Tape Reduction Unit to try and unlock the issues holding up payments.
“We now have a direct line with senior officials at the department and are working on getting each member’s file sorted out and processed.
“However, it is crucial that the government keep assisting us in resolving this problem. We believe that once the first months’ submission has gone through successfully, the rest will hopefully follow more smoothly and quickly.”
The MBAWC, MBA Boland and the trade unions at the Building Industry Bargaining Council have also reached an agreement on overtime.
This concession makes provision for additional hours to be worked without incurring overtime rates and was done to allow companies to claw back some revenue, says Bodill.
“This means that overtime during weekdays, night shifts or work shifts on Saturdays are worked at standard rates, with Sundays attracting the gazetted double time rate.
“It is a big concession for the industry, and provides a win-win situation where employers are able to claw back time and cost and workers are able to earn additional income and also recover the daily benefit contributions that make up their remuneration packages and which were lost during the period of inactivity.”