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OP-ED: The coronavirus is tearing down the construction industry

  • Published at 07:49 pm June 24th, 2020
Things looks bleak REUTERS

There have been countless setbacks across the nation

The year 2020 was set to be a year of milestones, but the emergence of the coronavirus has drastically rewritten our lives and plans. No industry has been left unaffected by the sweeping effects of the indiscriminating virus.

I am a part of the construction industry, a driver of development, and what I am witnessing is terrifying.

When 2020 started, it was with a positive note, with a vision to improve the infrastructure of Bangladesh with numerous mega-projects like the Padma Bridge, Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line-6, the third terminal at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, Matarbari coal-fired power plant, Banshkhali coal-fired power plant, among others.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has caused countless setbacks in construction across the nation. Projects are being delayed as both labour and material are held up. The lockdown has put many workers out of their jobs, and many are unable or unwilling to work because of the virus. As a labour-intensive sector, the construction industry is experiencing severe supply chain issues as logistical problems have mounted all over the world. As a result, the cost of equipment and material are significantly going up.

We have strict deadlines to meet, and the pandemic has overturned all scheduled planning and inspection visits. Subsequently, this is leading to termination or suspension of contracts, whose effects are threefold -- the labour will not get work, the firm will take a financial blow and may be stigmatized in future, and the project’s delay will stall development and revenue generation.

As many offices were closed during the general holiday, payments have been delayed, and all of this has greatly inconvenienced every person involved in the sector. The economic consequences of this will lead to a much wider fallout and the impact on society will be gradually felt.

Many construction sites are already inaccessible due to safety measures, and many others will join them as monsoon approaches. Already having logged three months in delays, we fear the rainy season could further push back deadlines to a concerning level.

What are we doing?

For the necessary workforce, we have taken every possible safety measure to contain the spread of the virus by following a strict follow-up routine. The work pace has been slowed down drastically to minimize chances of infection.

Our approach to work has been overhauled from top to bottom. For my employees, I ensured that they were provided with ample groceries and supplies for three months so that they would not endanger themselves or their families by having to step out of the house.

In my office, we installed thermal check-ups before permitting any entry, and firmly enforced social distancing. Where multiple people would work in one room, we decided to let only one person to occupy a room. Anyone whose work could be continued from home was instructed to work from home. We made masks mandatory for everyone and installed hand sanitizer stations throughout the office as well.

We have repeatedly emphasized the importance of washing hands and securing oneself against the virus.

At the sites, we intend to restrict work that requires multiple people working in close proximity. Instead, we have prioritized tasks which people can do by themselves without raising any chance of infection.

Whatever we can do to help our people -- our employees, families and clients -- we are doing. But we cannot do this all by ourselves.

What do we want?

We plea to the government to make loan accessibility easier with low interest rates. Our labour force is nearly entirely made up of day labourers, and if the work comes to a halt, they will struggle badly and may rapidly fall into extreme poverty.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced Tk72,750 crore worth of stimulus packages to tackle the impact of the coronavirus. We ask that the construction sector which is devoted to build our nation’s future, receives the support to function and support the dependents in return.

We do not ask for handouts, we only ask that as respectable business leaders for the assistance to continue our work with dignity.

This global pandemic has paralyzed so many sectors in the economy. If there is no support for us, we can hardly imagine how difficult it will be to move forward in these trying times.

Saiful Alam is the proprietor of S Alam Enterprise, a renowned construction company based in Bangladesh with over 20 years of experience.

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