Construction sites across Greater Sydney have closed as the new COVID-19 restrictions begin today, despite opposition from workers and lobby groups.
All works, from minor household renovations to major construction projects, such as the Western Sydney Airport and Sydney Football Stadium, have been told to stop as the state records another 98 cases.
“We can’t have people, especially who may not have symptoms, visiting multiple worksites, visiting sites with hundreds of workers, and spreading the disease,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters today. “It is a threat that was too great.”
Berejiklian said it was a difficult decision that was in the state’s best interest to “get out of this as quickly as we can.”
“I absolutely believe if we come together and work hard, we can quash this, but that is why we are in a critical phase and why the government had to make those difficult decisions,” she said.
The ban in Sydney is the first time any lockdown in Australia has stopped construction activity in the country.
Industry groups are urging the Premier to reconsider the ban, which could cost the state over an estimated $1 billion per week (US$739 million) according to the Australian Construction Association (ACA) and affect over 250,000 workers.
“We understand the government’s need and desire to get on top of this latest outbreak, but we think that they’ve really gone over the top with shutting down the whole industry,” ACA CEO Jon Davies told 2GB radio. “We think that this was excessive and completely unnecessary.”
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters that not all ministers in the cabinet agreed with the move, but they had ultimately stood by the decision.
The construction union, the CFMEU, said they and the industry had been fighting to keep construction open and operating under COVID safety protocols.
The union said the decision would affect one of the state’s largest workforce that was critical to the state and national economy.
“Despite this work, the NSW Government has decided to completely shut down the entire construction industry in Sydney without notice,” CFMEU NSW Secretary Darren Greenfield said in a statement. “The union is prioritising securing payment to contractors and workers’ wages for last week and to ensure they can access appropriate entitlements to support them over the coming weeks.”
NSW opposition minister for Industrial Relations called on the federal and state treasurers to reinstate JobKeeper to assist people who will be out of jobs for the next two weeks.
The comments from the CFMEU comes after truck drivers organised a rally on July 17, to protest the construction ban.