Coronavirus – COVID-19

The impact of Coronavirus presents an unprecedented challenge for our industry. We know that many members are already facing difficult times, which is why we want to take this opportunity to let all members know that we are here to help, and unless directed otherwise will remain open for business so we can continue to provide service and support to members.

We have launched this new webpage to help consolidate the myriad of information and to help keep our members informed.

For up-to-date information from the Tasmanian government visit https://www.coronavirus.tas.gov.au

To keep up with development nationally and to find information on Federal government support programs you can download the Australian Government coronavirus App

This page provides information for Master Builders members to help manage your business and workers through this crisis. Below you can find information, FAQs, materials and links to help you:

  • keep your worksites safe, and materials to help you follow government health guidelines on social distancing and workplace hygiene
  • understand what government stimulus and assistance programs are available for businesses and workers in the building and construction industry
  • understand how the crisis may affect your business and workers including, contracts, industrial relations, HR and insurance
  • keep up-to-date with changes to Master Builders training, events, and other operational activities
  • links to other important resources and information

Remember we are here to help, the MBT team is working around the clock to keep members informed with the latest information. Call us anytime on 03 6210 2000 or email headoffice@mbatas.org.au. For the latest developments follow us on Facebook or on LinkedIn.

Keeping Construction Sites Safe

Master Builders is in daily contact with the Premier’s and Prime Minister’s offices to ensure we can keep our members informed and to send the message to KEEP SITES OPEN, KEEP OUR INDUSTRY GOING, AND SUPPORT BUSINESSES TO KEEP THEIR WORKERS.

The message from the government is clear! In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic we all need to do everything we can to reduce the likelihood of transmitting COVID-19 on sites and keep the community safe. Many business have already implemented safety procedures, but to assist Master Builders has put together a checklist and a guide for managing workplace hygiene and social distancing on work sites. We urge you to use this information on site to help with site safety and stop the possible spread of COVID-19 on construction sites. It is also important that as the information from government changes that we adjust our work places accordingly. We will continue to keep our members informed.

A media release showing the governments commitment to the industry can be found HERE. we need to do our part to support the government to continue to keep our industry going.

We all need to take this seriously and do everything we can to stop the spread, to keep sites and our industry open and to keep the community safe!

Follow the link to the Safe Work guidelines to minimise risk on building and construction sites.

Click here for comprehensive workplace guidelines and materials you can use on your site to help stop the spread.

Click here to access our guide on how to manage yours and your workers hygiene on site!.

Follow this link to access some practical videos on how one of our members is keeping his site safe!

Follow this link for practical tips to manage social distancing and hygiene on residential construction worksites!

Additional materials to help stop the spread on your worksite below:

We are here to assist our members, please contact us if you have any queries on how your business may be affected on (03) 6210 2000 or at headoffice@mbatas.org.au.

Relief, stimulus & support

Master Builders is here to assist its members apply for and navigate the various government stimulus and support programs available to their businesses and workers.

What relief is available for my business if I am experiencing hardship?

Governments of all levels have issued relief and economic packages and measures, designed to support the economy and businesses, in particular small business.

We strongly recommend familiarising yourself with the options available to you and your business – whether it be cash flow boosts for employers, wage subsidies for apprentices, instant asset write-offs, tax relief, interest free loans and payroll tax deferrals, or waiving of council fees and charges. There is lots of relief already available.

While the government has announced measures that will assist businesses with the impact of COVID-19, we’re urging them to do even more. It’s a crucial time for them to consider both stimulus and relief measures that will assist businesses and stimulate demand and confidence in both the short and long-term.

What relief is available for my workers or if I am a sole trader?

The Federal Government has announced several packages to assist workers and help keep businesses that have been impacted by Covid-19 to keep their workers.

See below for programs which businesses and workers may apply for assistance through the cornavirus crisis:

Supporting Apprentices and Trainees  – Under the recently announced Supporting Apprentices and Trainees Initiative (SATI), eligible small business employers and hosts can apply for a reimbursement of 50% of the wages paid to eligible apprentices for the nine months from 1 January to 30 September 2020, to a maximum of $7,000 per quarter per eligible apprentice.

JobSeeker Scheme – The Government is temporarily expanding eligibility to income support payments and establishing a new, time-limited Coronavirus supplement to be paid at a rate of $550 per fortnight. This supplement will be paid to both existing and new recipients of the eligible payment categories. These changes will apply for the next six months.

CBus has developed a webpage for members who are after information on how to access financial hardship and compassionate payments of up to $10,000 from their super.

JobKeeper Scheme – Under the JobKeeper Payment, businesses impacted by the Covid-19 and meet the eligibility requirements will be able to access a subsidy from the Government to continue paying their employees. Affected employers will be able to claim a fortnightly payment of $1,500 per eligible employee from 30 March 2020, for a maximum period of 6 months.

To register your interest, follow this link the ATO Website to register for JobKeeper Payments.

Click here to access the JobKeeper FAQ sheet.

What else can I do if I am experiencing financial hardship? 

We recommend that you consider the following if you are experiencing financial hardship:

  • Speak with your creditors and discuss extended payment terms
  • Regularly review your debtors and request prompt payment
  • Contact your bank to see what support they may be able to provide
  • Discuss the possibility of ATO arrangements with your accountant, such as a payment plan.

It is really important that everyone in the Tasmanian community and especially the MBT family support one another during what has been a horror start to 2020. If you are experiencing difficulties when engaging with customers, subcontractors or suppliers, please let us know.

Whilst MBT is unable to provide you with financial advice, we can try and direct you to the appropriate people, so please get in touch with us if you have concerns.

I am worried about my mental health, where can I get support?

Master Builders Tasmania is in partnership with OzHelp Tasmania and they are there to help members and their employees manage their mental health through this crisis. Check out the “How’s It Going Book”, that has been specifically designed for the Building & Construction Industry.

We strongly recommend that you reach out to OzHelp. or contact one of their specialist consultants  on 1300 003 313.

 

Training & Events

There’ll be some necessary adjustments to our scheduled training and events, and we’ll be looking to do things a little differently (such as online delivery) – but we’ll monitor the advice and keep you posted as things change.

Training sessions are still being held face-to-face, but with changes to our classrooms to ensure we abide by social distancing rules and that hygiene products are available to all students. We ask that everyone coming into the office washes their hands properly before entering the MBT offices.

Video conferencing is available for students who would prefer to participate from home. We can help you set this up by calling the office (03) 6210 2000.

The closing date for the Master Builders Awards Excellence Awards is extended to 30 April. For assistance to ensure you get your projects in call Victoria on 6424 4144

If you’re registered for an event or training course, please check your inbox for updates.

What if I cannot complete my required CPD due to the coronavirus?

Occupational licence holders who have cannot complete their CPD requirements will be able to renew their licence on the condition that outstanding requirements are met within the next CPD period. CBOS is currently preparing detailed guidance for occupational licence holders regarding how these changes will be implemented.  These arrangements will be monitored to ensure they remain appropriate having regard to the extent of disruption from COVID-19.

CBOS have asked that you continue to keep them informed of any changes to your proposed CPD delivery. For Master Builders members we can help you with this. CBOS is also working with Master Builders to support the ongoing availability of CPD opportunities, including through alternative delivery channels.

If you would like further information regarding these changes, please contact Katrina Nielsen –katrina.nielsen@justice.tas.gov.au or 6777 2856, or contact the MBT office on (03) 6210 2000.

Contracts

What should I know about contracts?

One of the key issues of concern raised with us over the past few days are the terms of contracts in regard to project delays in this situation. We believe that all parties to a contract should take a sensible approach given the circumstances and not be legally opportunistic. We have raised this issue with the Federal Government and have recommended that they take the lead with government contracts and ask that the private sector follow suit. This position has been reiterated by the Tasmanian Government and we understand that they will work with contractors to extend completion timeframes where necessary on Tasmanian Government projects.

If you have information about a party to a contract attempting to take advantage of the impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) please advise us by email.

If someone on my site is diagnosed with COVID-19, do I need to shut down the site?

The answer to this question depends on the specific circumstances. The factors that will need to be taken into account include the size of the site, when the person was diagnosed and who else on the site may have come into contact with the person infected by COVID-19 (and when). As a minimum precaution, you should arrange to have the site cleaned.

Is COVID-19 considered a “force majeure” event?

A force majeure event is an unforeseeable circumstance that prevents a party from fulfilling a contract. There is no standard force majeure clause in Australia, and the definition varies between contracts. There may also be circumstances where the head contract includes force majeure provisions that cover COVID-19, but subcontracts do not (or vice versa). Consideration should be given to the entire supply chain in these circumstances.

It is our view that COVID-19 is a force majeure event, and therefore parties to a contract are able to rely on the force majeure clauses that are often in most building and construction contracts. What this entitles a party to do will differ from contract to contract, including time extensions without financial penalty through to the ability to terminate a contract. We recommend that you read through your contract(s) and familiarise yourself with your legal rights, seeking independent legal advice where appropriate and necessary.

What does this mean for projects covered by the MBT Domestic Building Contract?

Clause 14 of the MBT Domestic Building Contract (edition DB-4) states that the Builder shall be entitled to a fair and reasonable extension of the Construction Period following causes or conditions resulting from “any other matter, cause or thing beyond the control of the Builder”.

There is a requirement on the Builder to serve a notice on the Owner outlining the cause of the delay. We recommend that this be done on any contract which you are concerned will be impacted by COVID-19 as soon as possible.

Industrial relations and HR

The information provided in this section is presented as guidance materials only. It is not intended to be legal advice. Members should contact the Master Builders team for further information and specific advice, having regard to their own circumstances and the terms of any relevant enterprise agreement or other applicable instrument.

This information is current as at 5 April 2020and may be subject to change.

I heard reports the Fair Work Commission is making changes to Modern Awards to provide greater flexibility for businesses, what does this mean for my business?

It is important to say up front, (1) these changes are only temporary, and (2) only apply if your workers sit under an Award which has been temporarily amended. Temporary variations so far have been approved to the Hospitality Award and Clerks – Private Sector Award. A raft of others (Fast Food, Manufacturing, Vehicle RS&R) are under review. The changes arising from these variations have been, and will be, different depending on the specific Award, but broadly allow for things such as:

  • Greater capacity for employers to direct employees to take accrued leave, sometimes at half-pay for double the usual periods;
  • Reduced minimum engagement times;
  • Giving employers capacity to unilaterally reduce hours of permanent workers down to a certain percentage of their usual hours (75% or 60% depending on which Award);
  • Freeing up access to other accrued leaves that would ordinarily be payable to employees either throughout their employment or on termination;
  • Reductions in notice periods of roster changes; and
  • Capacity to direct workers to perform lower duties

So far, no variations have been approved for the Building and Construction General On-site Award, or the Joinery and Building Trades Award.

Industrial relations is complex at the best of times so if you have questions about current or potential future Award variations we encourage you to give the MBT office a call (03) 6210 2000.

Additional information on the impact of coronavirus on Australian workplace laws can be found HERE.

What are my options for managing my employees if there is a downturn in work?

Businesses have to be very careful about how they manage their workforces through this period. Employers are encouraged to consult with employees openly and regularly regarding the situation as it evolves. Where possible, employers should aim to work together with their employees to find appropriate solutions during this difficult time.

There are several options, but any agreement must consider the obligations for employers and employees under the Fair Work Act.

Paid Leave – Utilising paid leave entitlements for permanent employees can assist in circumstances where work has slowed down or stopped. Accrued annual leave can be taken by agreement, and employers may also be able to direct an employee to take a period of annual leave if permitted to do so under the terms of the applicable modern award or enterprise agreement.

Other paid leave entitlements that may be able to be taken by agreement include banked rostered days off (RDOs), accrued ‘time off instead of payment of overtime’ (TOIL), or long service leave for eligible employees. An employee will not be entitled to take paid personal/carer’s leave, unless the employee has an illness or injury that prevents them from working, or they are required to provide care or support to a member of their immediate family or household because of an illness or injury, or an unexpected emergency.

Reducing hours of work – A negotiated agreement for an employee to reduce their hours of work may assist to keep the employee in paid employment and avoid alternatives such as unpaid leave, stand down without pay or redundancy. Employers must consult with employees regarding a change to their ordinary hours of work under the applicable award or enterprise agreement, and any agreement should be documented in writing. We urge employers to seek professional advice before implementing any changes of this nature.

Unpaid Leave – Permanent employees who have exhausted their paid leave entitlement may be placed on unpaid leave (by agreement only). An employee on unpaid leave remains employed, but the period does not count as service and paid leave entitlements do not accrue.

Redundancy – In circumstances of a significant or ongoing downturn in work, it may be necessary for employers to undergo a restructure of the business resulting in one or more redundancies.

To satisfy the requirements for a “genuine redundancy” in the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act) (which is a defence to an unfair dismissal claim), an employer must also consult with any award or agreement covered employee prior to implementing the redundancy, and consider whether the employee can be redeployed into another position within the employer’s enterprise, or the enterprise of an associated entity of the employer.

The amount of redundancy pay employees are entitled to receive will depend on their period of service and the applicable industrial instrument. On-site employees will generally be entitled to redundancy pay in accordance with an industry specific redundancy scheme, such as that contained in the Building and Construction General On-Site Award 2010. Small business employers with less than 15 total employees may not be required to pay redundancy pay for certain employees.

Redundancy entitlements differ for different types of employees and in some circumstances may not apply. We would encourage members to call Master Builders if they are experiencing a significant down turn in work and are considering a restructure.

When does “stand down” without pay apply and what does it mean? 

Employees can be stood down without pay under the Fair Work Act if they can’t be usefully employed because of a stoppage of work for any cause for which the employer can’t reasonably be held responsible.

For a stand down to apply, the following must be satisfied: (1) there must be a stoppage of work (2) the employees to be stood down cannot be usefully employed, and (3) the cause of the stoppage must be one that the employer cannot be reasonably held responsible.

A stand down may therefore apply where there is a government imposed restriction or shutdown on the performance of work in a particular industry, or a prolonged lack of supply of materials that prevents the performance of work.

Stand down will generally not be applicable where there is a general downturn in work, and will not apply where work has slowed but not stopped, or where the employees can be usefully employed by performing alternative duties or alternative arrangements such as working from home.

Employees who are stood down are not entitled to be paid but will continue to be employed and continue to accrue paid leave entitlements as normal. An employee is not taken to be stood down during a period where the employee is taking authorised paid or unpaid leave such annual leave or long service leave. It is therefore possible for an employee to agree to take paid leave (see above), either prior to, or during, a period of stand down.

What if an employee wants to stay home as a precaution?

Employees who want to stay at home as a precaution (but who are not directed to by either their employer or an enforceable government direction) need to come to an arrangement with their employer that best suits their workplace. This may include requesting to work from home (if this is a practical option) or taking some form of paid or unpaid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave. Normal leave application processes in the workplace apply. If the employee doesn’t enter an arrangement with their employer or use paid leave, they’re not entitled to payment in these circumstances. You can find information on self-quarantine requirements on the Australian Government Department of Health’s website.

Employees are encouraged to discuss their level of risk of contracting coronavirus with their doctor, workplace health and safety representative or the appropriate Commonwealth, State or Territory workplace health and safety body.

Employees who don’t work because they have a reasonable concern about an imminent risk to their health or safety are not taking industrial action. This is provided they’re not failing to comply with a direction to perform work under their employment agreement.

What if an employee has a cold or feels ill, can they still come to work?

If you or an employee are showing signs of illness, do not attend the workplace. It is important we all following the government health guidelines. There are step you can take outlined in the latest ‘stop the spread’ guidelines above.

If quarantined, what type of leave are employees required to take?

Employees who are subject to compulsory self-isolation (as outlined by the Health Department) are deemed ‘unfit for work’ and therefore will be entitled to take paid personal leave, or for those who have exhausted their personal leave accruals, unpaid personal leave.  If in doubt, or if you are concerned about your personal leave accruals.

Also important to note that if an employee has to self-isolate for 14 days after returning home from overseas and they do not have any sign or symptoms and they are not unwell then they cannot use their sick leave.

General FAQ’s for Covid-19 (Coronavirus)

What is COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment.

How is coronavirus spread?

COVID-19 spreads from person to person in a similar way to the flu:

  • from close contact with an infected person
  • from touching objects or surfaces contaminated by the sneeze or cough of an infected person and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth

Symptoms similar to the flu, include fever, cough, sore throat, tiredness or shortness of breath.

Most people who are infected experience mild to moderate symptoms from which they fully recover. However, some people may develop more serious illness with pneumonia and other complications. People at risk of more serious symptoms include the elderly, children, pregnant women, or those with immune system, cardiac or respiratory conditions.

What measures can I take to protect myself and those around me from the virus?

  • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and warm water.
  • Maintain at least 1 metre between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
  • Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.
  • Keep up to date on the latest COVID-19 hotspots (cities or local areas where COVID-19 is spreading widely). If possible, avoid traveling to places with known outbreaks of COVID-19.
 

What should I do if I suspect that I have caught COVID-19?

If you suspect that you have caught COVID-19 you should contact a medical professional and follow their advice. If you are fit to do so, call your Manager and let them know you will not be attending the workplace. As is usual practice, if you are showing signs of illness, please do not work in the office. If you feel well enough to work, please do so from home.

What should I do if I am confirmed by a medical professional to have contracted COVID-19?

If you have been diagnosed by a medical professional with COVID-19, first and foremost you must seek necessary treatment. Contact your Manager by phone or email and let them know of your diagnosis, this is imperative to assist in the prevention of further spreading of the virus throughout the office.

Supply of Building Products – is there a shortage of supply of building products?

There are likely to be shortages of building products from China and delays in their delivery. There are already some reports of shortages of some imported glass and paint products.  We have no definite information about the likely length of such delays or when they will occur, but there is concern that they could last for some months depending on the product.

The lack of information is undermining confidence and making it difficult for businesses to make decisions. Master Builders has requested that the Federal Government use its resources obtain as much concrete information as possible and make it available to industry as quickly as possible.

Factories in China ceased production over Chinese New Year and the restart of production as well as product supply chains have been disrupted and delayed by the Chinese Government’s measures to try and contain the spread of the virus.

There are unverified reports that factories and supply chains are re-opening but that the continuance of some travel bans within the country are slowing the return of factory workforces and production to full capacity. With the escalation of mandatory country and regional shutdowns and travel bans over the weekend, the impact of the supply from Europe may exacerbate very quickly.

Where can I find out more information about supply shortages?

MBT is in regular contact with other MBA offices across Australia about the prevalence of a shortage building supply products. We will continue to provide updates on specific products, and any shortages generally, as the information becomes available.

You can also obtain information directly from your suppliers.

We encourage all members to keep MBT informed of any supply shortages that you are experiencing, so that we are able to provide all members with relevant and up to date information.

Master Builders risk management

We are committed to staying open for as long as it is safe to do  so. this is a commitment agreed to by the MBT team so that we can continue to be here for our members through this difficult time.

How will the MBA respond if someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 (coronavirus) has visited the office?

If we receive confirmation that any staff member, student or visitor to the office has a confirmed case of we will implement self isolation steps in line with the Public Health guidelines. in the case that staff members are exposued to an infected person they will be required to work from home if well enough to do so.

COVID-19 we will follow the procedure outlined by the Health Department. This will require:

  • The impacted individual to be isolated for 14 days
  • Anyone that has been in close contact with the individual to also be isolated for 14 days.
  • If this occurs, we will communicate with impacted staff, students and visitors.

This may require the office, or a large part of our office, to be temporarily closed. We are making plans for this ahead of time.

What measures are the MBA taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?

Master Builders Tas will continue to provide staff, members, apprentices, host employers and clients regular and insightful updates on the COVID-19 situation as more information comes to light. Staff and members are encouraged to regularly use the hand sanitiser provided and sanitising wipes. We have implemented social distancing procedures in all MBT offices for staff and members to folloow.

Anyone visiting an MBT office is required to follow out hygiene and social distancing procedures in line with Public Health guidelines. We have placed reminders around the office of good hygiene protocols and encourage all patrons entering the MBA office to abide by these protocols.

 

Additional resources

Department of Health – for the latest information and advice about Coronavirus
Fair Work Ombudsman – for information about workplace entitlements and obligations
Safe Work Australia – for information and referrals about dealing with Coronavirus in the workplace
World Health Organisation – for information and guidance about the outbreak of Coronavirus
OzHelp – for specialised mental health advice and assistance