Victoria has drastically cut the number of workers allowed on construction sites under sweeping new reforms announced on Monday.
Large-scale, major government projects had already cut onsite staff by half, while large-scale private construction (more than three-storeys) will have workers on-site reduced by 75 per cent. Smaller residential construction sites will be restricted to only five people.
The new restrictions on the construction industry start from 11.59pm on Friday and will be imposed for six weeks.
Melbourne residents are only able to go out for necessary supplies once a day, while non-supermarket retail is available through click-and-collect or contactless delivery.
This followed the “state of disaster” announcement on Sunday night which saw metropolitan Melbourne enter stage four restrictions.
Premier Daniel Andrews said that the government has no other choice.
“In terms of sectors that will scale back but not fully close, [is] construction which in many respects is the lifeblood of the Victorian economy,” Andrews said.
“That means essentially the sum of these industries we are moving into a pilot light phase, they're not being turned off completely but are dramatically reducing the number of people that they have working for them and their output.”
There are an estimated 500,000 people currently working from home in Victoria, 250,000 have lost their jobs and the premier said he expected a further 250,000 would be stood down.
“The alternative is a six month strategy, not a six week strategy, and even at that point there is significant doubt that will work,” Andrews said.
“There's been a lot of consultation and a lot of work with those businesses with unions to properly understand this.
“This is workable, it's not pleasant, no one will enjoy that but it's doable and we think that the reward for that effort, the dividends, in terms of dealing with the risk of the spread of this virus justifies us doing that.”
The “pilot-light” construction phase announcement came as Melbourne recorded the biggest drop in dwelling prices in the country by -1.2 per cent for July compared to -0.6 per cent nationally.
Construction and manufacturing lobby groups welcomed the government's efforts to keep worksites open and workers safe however they were concerned about the supply chain.
HIA executive director Victoria Fiona Nield said allowing housing projects to continue would save jobs, limit the risk of longer rental costs and loan charges for home owners, and ensure that Victoria’s housing supply keeps up with demand.
“The decision to allow domestic building to continue with limited numbers of workers on a domestic building site will allow hundreds of thousands of Victorians to stay in work and complete the more than 60,000 homes currently under construction in Victoria today,” Nield said.
Employer association Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said the changes would have a flow-on affect for swathes of manufactures who had been operating under Covid-safe plans and the new restrictions would have to be tweaked.
“Many Victorian businesses operate and supply goods and services across borders and the restrictions on well over 20 percent of Australia's economic activity will have massive flow-on implications across the nation,” Willox said.
“Many businesses will struggle to reopen after the minimum six weeks of these restrictions and closures. The future of their employees is now uncertain.”
Last week the 79-storey Premier Tower construction site in Melbourne CBD was shutdown last week after 12 workers tested positive for Covid-19.
In the past day 429 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded and 13 people died as the Victorian tally reaches 11,937 cases (2,031 within the community).