Unfair Covid lockdown will cost $6bn, Victoria contractors claim

Australian industry body Master Builders Victoria (MBV) has hit out at the state government’s two-week extension of a strict Covid lockdown across Melbourne that slashes staffing on big projects to 25% and closes smaller projects completely.

It calls the lockdown unfair and unjustified given low transmission of Covid-19 among construction workers, and warns that every day of lockdown causes A$455m in lost revenue and A$63m in lost wages, meaning 12 lost working days – excepting Sundays – could cost more than A$6.2bn.

On Monday, 16 August Victoria Premier Andrew Daniels announced that the lockdown would be extended to 11.59pm on Thursday, 2 September in response to daily new Covid cases rising to 25. It sees a daily curfew imposed from 9pm to 5am every night, with people needing permits to leave their homes for authorised work and increased police presence across Melbourne to enforce the rules. 

MBV chief executive Rebecca Casson called it a “bitterly disheartening move” that would have a “devastating impact on a sector already reeling from repeated snap lockdowns this year”.

She pointed out the industry had seen only six positive cases in 2021, indicating how closely it was following Covid safety guidelines, and said construction was being punished for high-profile breaches in the general public including a take-away pub crawl and an illegal engagement bash attended by 69 people.

“Even at the height of the pandemic in 2020, the ratio of building and construction cases compared to the wider community was 1:7.5,” Casson said. “We’ve had six positive cases in 2021, and only 148 cases in total since the pandemic began in March 2020.

“It’s therefore hugely disappointing that our industry is now paying the price for some regrettable and highly publicised flouting of restrictions at the weekend.”

Casson said building and construction was critical to the state’s economy, being the largest full-time employer in Victoria and supporting more than 300,000 jobs. The industry also accounts for over 46% of the state’s tax revenue.

“Every day that our industry is locked down, that’s $455m in lost revenue plus $63m in lost wages,” Ms Casson said. “We know that the recent circuit-breaker lockdowns have been especially challenging for many of our smaller members not permitted to work – that’s why we have been fighting so hard on their behalf.”

Image: Police in Melbourne Central Business District after anti-lockdown protests on 5 August, the night Victoria went into its sixth lockdown (Neb/CC BY-SA 4.0)

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