Almost 150,000 building workers laid off in March could be back at work as early as next month as the Government looks to kickstart the economy.
Plans by the construction industry to “stress-test” health procedures to allow sites to open up again were discussed at a meeting between Government officials, employers, and trade unions, according to the Construction
Industry Federation (CIF), “with an understanding it can start in May” – beginning with social housing sites.
The upbeat news came on the day, however, that new figures showed the number of people out of work or in receipt of a Government payment has topped 1m.
The number of people receiving the €350 pandemic payment rose by 51,000 to 584,000, according to Department of Employment Affairs figures.
A further 212,000 were on the unemployment count, and 219,4000 people had received a wage-subsidy payment from Revenue, according to figures published in recent weeks.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is preparing to release forecasts of the costs of the Covid-19 crisis in terms of its impact on jobs and a ballooning budget deficit today.
Many economists believe the Government will struggle to hold the deficit to below €25bn this year.
Tom McDonnell, co-director at the Nevin Economic Research Institute, which helps advise Ictu, said there are “innovative ways” to engineer a return to work, based on the experience of other European countries.
He said there is hope for building workers to be the first to recommence work in May, under strict adherence to health rules. Other big employers such as pubs, restaurants, and hotels would likely take much longer.
CIF head of communications Shane Dempsey said the return to construction work “could happen relatively quickly” from next month, once health protocols were “stress-tested” across different parts of the industry.
He said induction programmes mandated by the HSE were starting this week and once these had been validated, employees could go back to work on a site-by-site basis.
Social housing and civil engineering, as well as projects for the multinationals, could be the first to restart, but only if everyone were satisfied the Covid-19 safety plans were working.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government is working on a plan to see when the Covid-19 restrictions can be lifted. It is set be published at the end of the month.
“What we are working on is a stepwise plan, whereby we could start to reopen certain services, certain parts of the economy, and then review every two to three weeks, depending on how things are going in terms of the spread of the virus — but I’d rather give people certainty when we have that towards the end of April/early May than to speculate on that when it is not yet agreed,” he said.
He warned that large public gatherings and busy pubs could be the last to have restrictions lifted when the Covid-19 crisis passes.