Labour TD Ged Nash says all construction sites, bar those part of health sector build projects, should be closed down immediately.
The Drogheda-based Deputy made his comments on Tuesday afternoon after An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced an extension and expansion of closures of schools, colleagues and businesses, as well as new measures designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19, including allowing Gardai the power to detain people who are not engaging in appropriate social distancing measures.
Nash was critical of the Taoiseach’s lack of clarity on the issue of construction workers being able to protect themselves using adequate physical distancing measures.
“That is one of the things we are going to have to work on, working with employers and working with unions,” Varadkar said when posed with the question at a government press conference. “Construction sites tend to be outdoors which is obviously much better than being indoors. There are some that are essential – constructions that are being carried out by pharmaceutical companies, medical devices and healthcare establishments.
“In the same way as when it comes to essential retail, we have to manage the risk,” he said.
“We would propose to do something similar with construction but we very much want the authorities – the NSAI, the environmental health officers, the Health and Safety Authority to work with employers and unions too get that right. It may not be possible to get it right everywhere but we can certainly get it right in some places.”
Deputy Nash said he was extremely concerned that physical distancing measures were not possible to implement on building sites nationwide. “Today Unite the Union and construction workers across the country have highlighted how physical distancing is not happening and basic items like soap or hand sanitiser are not available in some sites.
“The health and safety of construction workers and their families must be the paramount concern now.”
Nash, who serves as the Labour Party’s Employment Affairs spokesperson, went on to say that workers have no choice but to work in an environment that does not avoid them the opportunity to put physical distance between them and other workers. He said all non-essential work should be stopped.
“This is unfair on construction workers,” he said. “This puts them and their families at risk and is unacceptable.
“All construction sites barring those involving the health sector and other essential services should be closed now.
“Where sites are to remain open strict protocols should be established between government, unions, the CIF, the Health & Safety Authority and other relevant agencies to protect the welfare of workers.”
Earlier in the day, Unite the Union can called for all construction work to be halted to help stop the spread of Covid-19. “It has become increasingly clear to our members, who work on sites throughout the country, that adequate social distancing cannot be maintained either on site or, in many cases, when travelling to and from sites,” United’s Regional Officer for construction Tom Fitzgerald said.
“Approximately 150,000 construction workers are not only themselves susceptible to the spread of COVID-19, but are also at risk of bringing the virus back home to their families and communities – further increasing the strain on our health services.
“Unite is concerned that, as the situation escalates, responsible employers may close site and find themselves effectively undercut by irresponsible employers whose sites remain open, putting workers and the general public at risk,” he said.