Master Builders Victoria (MBV) has expressed concern that both State and Federal Governments have continued to exclude small building and construction businesses from COVID-19 support packages during the latest Victorian lockdown.

MBV CEO Rebecca Casson said there was a misconception that all building and construction companies could work during Victorian lockdowns.

However, many small building and construction businesses – such as home renovators - are currently not permitted to work inside occupied premises and are not eligible for State support. Federal support appears to only be targeted at individuals unable to work.

Some small building and construction businesses that were provided with financial assistance, such as payments based on a 30 per cent downturn from the State’s Business Support Fund in other lockdowns are now ineligible – and it’s unclear why.  However, the registered ANZSIC code eligibility criteria being used for the recent and current lockdown means that they are now deemed ineligible as building and construction is not included as an eligible profession.

MBV has written to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to express grave concern that small building and construction businesses currently not permitted to work inside occupied premises are excluded from the Victorian Government’s business support grants.

“Numerous small building and construction businesses have been severely impacted by the lockdowns and they continue to incur ongoing costs,” Ms Casson said.

“It is important to note that of the 110,000 Victorian businesses in our industry, 98.8 per cent are small businesses, many of whom do not have the resources to continue absorbing additional costs without support. 

“These businesses are subjected to as much financial pain and distress as many other small businesses, and it is disappointing that they continue to be excluded.

“It should also be remembered that our industry continues to be heavily impacted by supply chain issues and significant price increases that have taken their toll on many small businesses.”

Ms Casson said many expenses cannot be recovered following lockdowns, with typical costs for equipment hire alone estimated at $1,000 per week, per project.

“These expenses cannot be reclaimed following a lockdown, nor passed onto customers due to fixed price contracts,” Ms Casson said.

Ms Casson said MBV has urged the State and Federal Governments to re-consider providing specific support measures to assist small building and construction businesses not permitted to work.  This support will help them survive and continue to ensure that the safety measures, which have kept the industry safe throughout the pandemic, are maintained. 

“Even if the lockdown is lifted this week, we have urged the State Government to continue working with us, and other sections of the building and construction industry that are impacted by the issue such as plumbers and electricians, to devise new support package criteria that could apply to any future lockdowns,” she said.

MBV fears that more building and construction companies could hit the wall as insolvencies continue to soar. Victoria accounted for nearly 40 per cent of all building and construction insolvencies across Australia this year.

Ms Casson said in the first four months of 2021, there were 145 building and construction insolvencies in Victoria – up 34.3 per cent on the same time last year.

“Our industry does not want to let our consumers down. If the insolvency of builders increases, this may result in the Victorian community suffering because they will have unfinished renovation projects and potentially lose money,” she said.

Ms Casson said the industry, inclusive of commercial and residential sectors, had demonstrated time and time again that it can keep sites safe and open. 

Strict protocols have been developed by all industry partners, which has allowed a quick response whenever there has been an isolated case.

Positive cases of COVID-19 on building and construction sites have remained very small in comparison to the overall cases in the Victorian community.

“Throughout the pandemic, building and construction workers were seven times less likely to catch COVID-19 compared to the wider community,” Ms Casson said.

“Even at the height of the pandemic when there were hundreds of cases in the community, building and construction remained the keystone of Victoria’s economic recovery.

“Our sector is the largest full-time employer for more than 300,000 Victorians and accounts for 46 per cent of our state’s tax revenue.

“The value of building and construction work also comprises about 13 per cent of GSP.  

“The continued viability of projects in the building and construction industry is therefore essential to Victoria’s economic recovery,”