Australian society has undergone a dramatic change in the past weeks, as COVID-19 impacts our lives.

The pandemic affects all businesses and sectors, with the Australian government closing or restricting the operation of ‘non-essential’ services to contain the transition of the infectious disease. 

At this time, the construction industry remains an essential service, with work sites throughout Australia remaining operational with extra safety precautions in place. Yet with newly imposed restrictions being announced on a daily basis and the potential of lockdown a growing possibility, this situation could change. 

It is important that the government permit construction sites to stay in business during this crisis. Employing more than one million Australians and earning billions of dollars, this business is crucial to the operation of the economy, which is bound to sustain severe damage if construction sites close. 

The flow-on effect generated by the construction sector sustains many other industries, including quantity surveying, engineering, architecture, legal and financial businesses, for example. Workers in these businesses have been working from home during the pandemic, but rely on construction site activity to feed their workflow. If permitted to proceed, the collective production of all of these industries will give Australia the power to survive. 

Another fact to consider is that, in spite of border closures caused by COVID-19, Australia’s population will continue to surge rapisly, and will need new homes, workplaces and infrastructure. Hence putting a stop to construction projects, even in the short term, threatens the economy. 

It goes without saying that we all must do our part to flatten the curve of COVID-19. This is why the construction industry has imposed stringent measures in accordance with government recommendations on construction sites regarding hygiene, social distancing and the separation of workers on food breaks. 

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union is advocating the administration of 24-hour construction sites with a trio of staggered eight-hour shifts, to cut down on the amount of contact workers share with one another. In NSW and Victoria, work schedules have been expanded to suit these demands – NSW sites can now run through weekends and public holidays, and inner-city Melbourne sites have been granted temporary additional hours throughout the week and on weekends. These measures – likely to be adopted by other states – will guarantee that projects are still proceeding, and that workers can labour more days while respecting social distancing safety precautions and regulations. 

The building industry faces every crisis with creativity and innovation, and will do so again—while at the same time respecting and preserving public health and safety. 

The sectors of the construction industry able to operate remotely are doing so to full effect. Yet the base physical core of construction work necessitates physical, on site work—and so does the nature of the economy. 

It is only in this way that the industry, government, and nation will survive.