Monday, 20 April 2020 20:03

Relief for construction industry available

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The sudden announcement of the lockdown by President Ramaphosa understandably raised serious and immediate concerns in the building industry.

Cyril Ramaphosa

This is according to Pearl Pugin, secretary of the Building Industry Bargaining Council (BIBC), who said that as such, the representative employer and employee bodies on the Council asked whether it would be possible at short notice to advance funds that would normally accrue during the year and be paid out as a Holiday and Bonus Fund when the industry shuts down at the end of the year.

The concern, she said, was that especially hourly-employees would be stuck with no income at all and would also be unable to prepare for a five-week period of no income. “This was also before the Department of Employment and Labour (DOEL) was ready to implement the Temporary Employment Relief Scheme. Despite a significantly reduced team of remote workers, the BIBC paid out over R58 million in advances to eligible employees of employers who were registered and compliant over the period from 1st November 2019 to 26th March 2020. This initiative, as proposed by employers in the industry, served to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and consequently the national lockdown.

In a further initiative, the BIBC volunteered to assist with the implementation of the UIF Temporary Employment Relief Scheme (Ters), acting as a disbursement agent for the industry. This means that employers will be further relieved from applying for UIF TERS benefits on behalf of their employees and that the BIBC can pay their employees directly on approval by the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). Guidance on how to do this has been posted on the BIBC website at www.bibc.co.za and employers have been informed that they may start submitting their applications to the BIBC,” Pugin explains.

“The Master Builders Association of the Western Cape (MBAWC) welcomes this and is guiding its members on how to weather the storm. Although the construction industry has been under tremendous strain prior to the effects of COVID-19, the impact of the pandemic and current national lockdown will have further negative effects on the industry going forward,” says Mark Fugard, Junior Vice President at the MBAWC.

“However, during this testing time, the industry is seeing the benefit of membership with the Master Builders Association Western Cape and compliance with a functional Building Industry Bargaining Council,” he adds.

John Slingsby, Former President of the MBAWC agrees, and points out that it is vital for the industry to work together to ensure that the poorest of workers can be taken care of by using the BIBC system of contributions. “Non-compliant companies that try to avoid these contributions have no funds that can be disbursed to their employees – one wonders how they will provide for their families during the lockdown period.”

He adds that in contrast, and within a matter of days, the BIBC ensured compliant companies’ employees received their benefits directly deposited into their bank accounts. “It is important to note that on a broad scale, the Government is not wasting the crisis but using it to formalise the economy.  All of the state’s relief measures so far - including tax breaks and cash payments - are reserved for businesses that are registered with the authorities. Similarly, by being BIBC compliant the message is clear: you will get help if you comply.”

Looking forward, Fugard says that post lockdown, the construction industry might have to adapt to operating differently.

In order to provide local construction companies with advice on how they can plan for when the lockdown lifts, Roy Hendricks, President of the MBAWC, says that construction business owners should rethink the way they do business and look at sustainable alternative building methods.

“For example, the current precautionary methods will most probably become the norm, with the possibility of new health and safety measures and setting up site offices in preparation for cyber meetings,” he suggests. 

“As an industry, it is important for us to realise that we are affected by global events. Therefore, it is imperative that we ensure our operations are covered for such eventualities by having insurance and making sure the necessary information is included in contractual documents, for instance,” says Hendricks.

In conclusion, Chandre Abrahams, Area Sales Manager at Corobrik says that construction business owners should also use this time to re-purpose and re-tool their businesses, merely to encourage some level of trade after lockdown. “Along with this, bear in mind that past recessions have taken the country around 18 months to recover from. We are in unknown territory, and, as such, it is now more important than ever to make the necessary provisions.”

Last modified on Monday, 20 April 2020 20:16

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