‘It’s just hypocrisy’: Sydney construction workers say LGA lockdowns ‘crippling’ industry

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Construction workers from the eight local government areas in Sydney under tough restrictions have said the halt on work is “crippling” the industry.

Despite cases continuing to rise, the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, confirmed on Wednesday that the work would be allowed to resume on major projects and non-occupied sites from Saturday.

But work has been halted in the eight LGAs of concern, which include Fairfield, Liverpool, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Blacktown, Parramatta, Georges River and Campbelltown.

Related: Locked down with Covid cases rising, Sydney wonders how Delta outbreak will end

Construction workers and tradespeople who also live in those areas are not allowed to leave for sites outside their LGAs, putting a halt to the industry across much of western Sydney.

Mahmoud, a builder based in Cumberland, told the Guardian he did not believe the industry could survive if the restrictions were not eased soon.

“It’s crippling the industry, I really don’t know how it’s going to recover. It’s very dangerous, and I feel that if they don’t reverse their decision soon, I believe people are just going to get angrier and more frustrated,” he said.

”You’re messing with people’s livelihood, you’re taking food out of people’s hands. It’s not right. ”

He explained that his overhead payments have not been stopped, meaning he has had to continue paying workers and bills while all his sites are on hold.

“Two weeks was bad, and now a month, it’s pretty bad. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Because overheads don’t stop, and if there’s no money coming in, it’s going to take from my savings.”

Mahmoud said it was hypocritical of the NSW government to allow exercise outdoors, when most of his work was also done outdoors.

“The restrictions are not fair at all, it’s just hypocrisy. They say there are no cases transmitted outside. Then how do you shut an industry where 80% of our work is outdoors? What’s the difference then, between working and exercising outdoors?”

“You’re going to destroy lives. We’re just living with constant stress. I pride myself on providing for my family, and you’ve taken that away from me. I’ve never had to rely on any handout, but here we are.”

Related: Extroverted, self-centred men less likely to comply with Covid restrictions, study suggests

Caleb Strik, a builder from Canterbury-Bankstown, said he had had to live in a half-constructed duplex because he had not been able to continue work on his own home.

“Not being finished, it means I don’t have a front door. The rules say that I cannot have tradies here, cannot have people working. So I’ve bought a swag tent, and I’m living here for now,” he said.

“I’m using a portaloo out the front, I don’t have a kitchen, so I have to eat out. What can I do?”

Strik had moved out of a leased home after the landlord had asked for higher rent, which he could not afford. He had nearly completed work on his home before Sydney was plunged into lockdown.

“The tenant wanted us out because they were losing out on higher rent. So it’s just a cycle effect. They needed to earn money, we couldn’t afford the rent, we needed to get in here to help us out, but we can’t finish here because of the lockdown.”

Strik has seven kids and has struggled to provide for them as the restrictions bite into his business.

“When you do the maths, the financial burden of living with seven kids, the cost of living is through the roof. You got to pay for schools, food – just food alone with seven kids, you’re looking at at least $900 a week.”

“And there’s no work, I can’t work. Where do I get the money from? I don’t know.

“I feel uncertain, uncertain about the future. This is not the Australia we grew up with.”

Berhan, a builder also from Canterbury-Bankstown, said many of the tradespeople that maintained the industry lived in those eight LGAs, and he was unsure if the NSW premier knew the impacts the restrictions were having.

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“I don’t know if [Berejiklian] is familiar with how the industry works, because lots of the tradies come from these areas. I don’t know if she realises that or not. I think with the LGAs locked down, the only construction sites benefitting are big ones.”

He said his business would be able to carry on for only a couple more weeks before it would have to make tough decisions.

“We can probably carry on for another three to four weeks, otherwise we’re going to have to start taking unpaid leave. We just can’t afford to keep going like this.

“Lots of those guys are on hourly wages, not on a salary. And they’re affected a lot more compared to office workers, and they’re struggling badly. What are they left with to actually survive? People are chewing through their savings.”

He said the disaster payments available for workers were not enough, certainly not for people who needed to provide for their families.

“I saw we can get around $750 a week, but some builders were earning $2,000 to $2,500 a week as an employee – how do they recoup those costs? They don’t have an income to pay rent and feed their families.”

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