The country’s largest representative body of construction companies and affiliated businesses has called for the industry to be declared an essential service during the lockdown in order to prevent the loss of up to 108,000 jobs and the cancellation of contracts.

SA’s construction industry has been battling many challenges over the past decade, including a lack of government infrastructure projects, rising electricity costs, non-payment by the government and other state entities, and the hijacking of construction sites by a “construction mafia”, which includes members of the public who demand cuts of contracts and threaten violence if they are not rewarded.

The Master Builders Associations (MBA) last week sent a letter to public works minister Patricia de Lille imploring that the industry should be able to send its staff back to work by next week.

The letter was sent after a construction Covid-19 rapid response task team, which includes the SA Property Owners Association, was put together by the MBA.

The MBA represents the views of major parties in the construction industry and consists of individuals representing suppliers, manufacturers, built environment professionals and consultants, and contractors.

“The reactivation would clearly be subject to the adherence of strict safety guidelines in order to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, and these guidelines are outlined in the document,” the MBA’s executive director for the Western Cape, Allen Bodill, said.

He said the task team was appealing to the government to consider the construction sector and supporting entities within the sector as an essential service.

“This is vital in order to facilitate the immediate completion of current projects and to further urgently propose, plan, design and fund a suite of new projects aimed at providing the necessary economic stimulus for providing traction within our economy,” he said.

The executive director of MBA North, Mohau Mphomela, said construction and related industries made a strong case to be considered as essential services given how many people they employed and how important their role was in the economy.

“This is part of our attempt to get government to bring the construction industry back to work. We are an industry which is very labour intensive and which employs many people.

“Well, we know the lockdown is in place for the right reasons. The construction industry and its affiliates not operating has far-reaching implications for the country as a whole. This is why we believe we should return to work with the right measures in place,” he said.

MBA North represents employers in the construction industry who operate in Gauteng, Limpopo, the North West and Mpumalanga.

In the first quarter of 2019, about 140,000 construction jobs were lost due to cancelled contracts. Job losses are projected to be between 64,000 and 108,000 for the first quarter of 2020, according to the SA Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors.