Construction in Australia is full-steam ahead despite increasing social distancing measures and limitations on gatherings including funerals being limited to 10 people and weddings just 4.

But construction site staff would hardly notice they’re in the middle of a pandemic with many workers expressing their concern over crowded sites and union negligence.

This is causing a divide in the global construction community between those that are calling for site shutdowns and those wanting to keep construction open for business.

In a rare alliance, the CFMEU and Master Builders Australia have formed a united front to keep sites open. In a joint statement they said:

“A shut-down of building and construction would devastate not only the livelihoods of more than one million Australians but would be a disaster for the living standards of the whole community.”

CFMEU Victoria has even threatened legal action:

“Any site partially or fully closed without the intervention of the Victorian Chief Medical Officer will be subject to legal claims by the Union for payment by the employer.”

The self-employed in Australia’s construction sector represent around 30% so, it is unsurprising that this has the industry divided in a battle between health and livelihood.

The UK’s Construction Enquirer reported that they had been approached by many workers saying social distancing is completely absent on site with 120 packing into toolbox talks and fingerprint scanners not being disinfected.

Back home, The Age reported that their tour of six commercial sites in inner Melbourne found examples at every one of building workers centimetres apart, rather than the recommended 1.5 metres.

The Age said, of those they interviewed, there was an even split between those wanting to continue work and those who felt the union should be lobbying for a shut down.

CFMEU secretary, Dave Noonan, admitted that many sites were not implementing measures for appropriate hygiene.
Electrical worker, Ryan Stanton, in an article on left-wing publication, Red Flag, let rip:

“As an electrical worker and union member on a major Melbourne building site, I’ve never been more furious with my own union leadership… The idea that our health and safety should be left to the discretion of companies like Grocon, the greed of which resulted in the deaths of three passers-by after a wall at one of its construction sites collapsed in 2013, would be laughable if it wasn’t so horrifying.”

There’s even a petition circulating in the UK to shut sites down, currently it has over 400 signatures. Many others have taken to Twitter to express their concerns with #shutthesites & #StopConstruction.

Alex Neary: “What’s going on with the millions of construction workers eating in tiny canteens touching stuff all day other people have touched and going back home to family’s and possibly passing on the virus? Absolute farse.”

@Ro88o: “The amount of sites ive worked having to wear ridiculous ppe that hinders your work, but then theres a worldwide pandemic and its ok lads just carry on!? #shutthesites”

@eth4n___: "On a construction site, still running, no social distancing, nothings been cleaned, offices/canteens over crowded. No support to the self employed as of yet"

Hol @1975hols: "UK Parliament: Close construction sites now to stop the spread of coronavirus. — Sign the Petition!"

On The Tools put the question out on Twitter on what people thought of keeping sites open — there were mixed responses but most called for sites to shut.

@neilrp24 Replying to @onthetoolstv: “Absolute joke! Can’t have a radio on site and need a permit to use step ladders but everyone can spread the corona virus”

@jeremyduthie Replying to @onthetoolstv: “None of us particularly WANT to be at work, but seeing as the majority of us are self employed and ,(as it stands at the moment) not receiving any help whatsoever. What are we supposed to do? If the virus doesn’t kill us, the starvation will!!”

@RTOhunter Replying to @onthetoolstv: “Absolutely shocking.”

So, should sites be kept open to protect the income of workers — particularly the self-employed and small business owners — or should the health and safety of workers and their families be the priority?