Up to 20,000 construction workers return to sites
Up to 20,000 construction workers began returning to work on residential, early-learning and childcare sites around the country from today as Covid-19 restrictions ease.
But there continues to be frustration within the industry that building work in the remaining parts of the sector that remain stalled cannot yet resume.
Much construction activity has been stopped since January 8.
Only work on essential health, social housing, housing adaptation grant, critical transport and utility infrastructure, education, certain foreign direct investment related and nearly completed home projects was allowed to continue.
As a result, last week nearly 53,000 construction workers were in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, down from nearly 60,000 at the start of March.
However, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) says frustration remains that restrictions will persist for the remainder of the sector until May 4, keeping an additional 20,000 construction workers out of work.
From that date the Government has said it will consider allowing the rest of sites to reopen subject to prevailing health conditions at the time.
The industry body argues that Ireland has been the only country in Europe where the construction sector has been partially shut down.
The CIF also claims that even though 40,000 construction workers have been at work daily since January, there has only been a very small number of Covid-19 cases associated with their activity.
It says that official HSE statistics show that just 5% of all workplace outbreaks have taken place in construction settings and workplaces only account for 7% of all outbreaks of the virus.
The CIF has also warned that the longer the restrictions remain in place on construction, the bigger the impact on the wider economy.
A recent EY/DKM report commissioned by the CIF showed that each week of lockdown reduces industry output by €427m, takes €156m profit and wages out of the economy, and cost the Exchequer €53m in 2021.
Increasingly, construction companies are rolling out antigen testing for staff and contractors on sites.
However, the trade union Unite has written to NPHET seeking guidance on the optimum testing regime for construction sites.
"The feedback from our members is that significant efforts have been made by contractors to ensure that sites are Covid-safe and observe the safety protocols which were developed last year in conjunction with unions," said Unite Regional Officer Tom Fitzgerald.
"Nevertheless, our members remain concerned about the possibility of transmission, especially on large sites and in circumstances where they have no option but to work closely together or in unventilated spaces."
"We feel that the best way to allay concerns and ensure that the risk of transmission is minimised, especially in a context where Covid-19 case numbers remains high in the community, is to ensure regular on-site testing."
"We have therefore written to NPHET seeking their guidance regarding the intervals at which testing should be carried out to ensure optimum protection of our members and the wider public."