Lockdown could cost construction industry €3bn

Updated / Monday, 25 Jan 2021 17:32

The CIF argues that the lockdown is having a disproportionate impact on the residential and commercial property sub-sectors

By Ingrid Miley

The current lockdown could cost the construction industry a total of around €3 billion, or 10% of output - if it continues for another four weeks, according to the Construction Industry Federation.

In a letter to member firms, the CIF insists that there is no health or economic justification for keeping the sector in lockdown, and  that it can operate at full capacity without contributing the spread of Covid-19 - regardless of the current incidence in the community.

The CIF argues that the lockdown is having a disproportionate impact on the residential and commercial property sub-sectors, and estimates that last year's lockdown probably took 5,000 homes out of the supply for 2020.

The letter acknowledges that companies are reporting increased numbers of their workers presenting with Covid-19 - but insists: "HSE monitoring data shows that this is not translating into cases/clusters on construction sites."

It cites HSE figures showing a lower incidence of Covid-19 cases or outbreaks in the construction sector, compared to other sectors - and attributes this to workers' compliance with the industry's Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and other safety protocols. 

The CIF also notes that of the 147,000 people directly employed in construction, only around 80,000 are currently working on-site, with the remaining professional or office workers instructed to work from home. 
It claims this means that the construction industry's "mobility numbers" are much lower than the 250,000 workers involved in the food industry and the 267,000 in manufacturing, both of which are currently permitted to continue working. 

It accuses the government of basing its lockdown policy on "availability bias" (i.e. the fact that construction workers were highly visible in the community) rather than on evidence. 

According to the CIF letter,  since 6th January  the HSE has only identified one on-site cluster involving 2 cases, with zero new cases on construction sites as of 18th January.  

It notes: "From a health system perspective, from September 2020 to date, there have been only 5 people hospitalised and 2 were submitted to ICU as per the HSE's monitoring of construction related Covid-19 incidence."

"Construction has proven that whether partially or fully open it can operate safely regardless of incidence levels in the community", the letter states. 
"This is remarkable at a time when the daily rate surpassed 8,000 and thousands of construction workers are engaged in construction deemed essential by the Government."  

The CIF letter goes on: "Thus, extending industry's lockdown at this point would be ineffectual from a public health perspective yet hugely economically damaging for the industry and the wider economy."  

A spokesperson for the CIF acknowledged to RTE that Covid-19 was a serious problem, stressing that members were strongly urged to maintain strict compliance with safety protocols.

However, he said that the industry had consistently operated safely as evidenced by HSE statistics, and called for those sites currently under lockdown to be permitted to reopen.