Smaller East London construction firms crippled by pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has crippled the small to medium-sized building and construction firms in East London.
Image: Picture: Sergei Dmitrienko

The coronavirus pandemic has crippled the small to medium-sized building and construction firms in East London. And while level 4 lockdown allows for small repair jobs, actual building will only start at level 3.

“Our hands are tied,” Brewer Kriel, owner of Brewcon, an East London building company, said. “My worry is that come level 3 there will not be any jobs available.”

While Brewcon does build substantial retail centres and office blocks, the majority of the work is residential.

“A positive is that bonds are more affordable as rates have come down, but with so many people out of work, who can afford to build?”

Brewcon employs over 50 people. Fortunately the TERS UIF fund paid them in April and Kriel’s hope is that it should also cover wages for May. What would not be covered were company overheads, he said.

Duane Genders owns The Training Academy [TTA], a company focusing on training people to erect scaffolding. TTA has training contracts throughout Africa, starting in Egypt and Morocco and working south. All have been cancelled.

“Builders and construction companies cannot erect scaffolding without a qualified person, either on their payroll or a service provider. We train employees of many of these companies, from entry-level worker to team leader, and finally inspector. Right now they are not required — no work, no scaffolding.”

In an effort to combat level 4 restrictions, TTA has divided the five Seta-approved courses it offers into practical training and theoretical.

“Obviously practical work has ground to a halt, but we offer online theory. When we reach the right level, probably level 3, we can go in and do practical.”

He said while common sense says that the pandemic should ease, the concern is how many of his clients will have the funds to train once they get the go-ahead to start. One of his regular customers had guaranteed work lined up until 2021.

“All of it was cancelled, not as one would suspect put on hold, but the contract no longer exists. It might take them years to recover, if they can.

“The disease has forced us to look outside the building box and we have built a practical course to train companies to counter Covid-19 in the workplace, which we offer online.”

Investec’s monthly Covid-19 Impact on Businesses report revealed that while many businesses it surveyed were operational on level 4, the majority had reduced turnover.

Predictions for May were a further 45,6% companies expected a workforce decrease in May. Half of those interviewed had either laid off staff or were trimming working hours and pay.

Investec predicted that the economy would continue with a sharp contraction, likely to be worse than that caused by the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

Over half the companies predicted that they would not have the sufficient financial resources to continue operating through the pandemic as the lockdown had already been prolonged, with no end in sight yet.

By Ted Keenan – DispatchLIVE

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