Early curfew exemption aided 7% construction growth

Early curfew exemption aided 7% construction growth

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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Local builders have joined the Caribbean Cement Company Limited (CCCL) in crediting the Government's decision to relax nightly curfew rules affecting the construction industry as early as last April with aiding the promising recovery in that sector.

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) last week reported a seven percent growth in the construction subsector in the July-September quarter, which has boosted hopes within the industry for a quicker-than-expected return to normal production levels in 2021, as well as offering evidence of a predicted major turnaround in the economy during the year.

CCCL General Manager Yago Castro recently attributed the record 940,000 metric tonnes of cement manufactured in 2020 to the company's capital investment and the expertise of its employees, as well as Government policies including its management of the pandemic and, specifically, the removal of curfew limitations in April.

“The market responded opposite to what might have been expected, given the pandemic. Instead of slowing down, construction grew, and we kept in step with our customers by meeting their demand consistently. We will continue to ramp up production as the market grows,” Castro explained.

“The Government of Jamaica assessed the situation well and allowed critical sectors to continue operating, once certain protocols were followed. Prioritising health, while keeping economic goals in mind, has mitigated the negative impact on our sector. Moreover, we saw tremendous performance from our team, who remained focused, and I am really proud of their commitment,” he added.

In an interview with the Business Observer, president of the Incorporated Master Builders Association of Jamaica (IMAJ) Lenworth Kelly agreed with the presumption, although noting that a continuing resumption of construction projects which had been halted by COVID-19 earlier in the year, as well as the long delayed start-up to buildings projects which were delayed since January, 2020, also impacted the figures.

“When COVID-19 came, there was an immediate slowdown about March to June, as the results were new to everybody, including the Government, which was still trying to find its way. Some of us kept working, but things slowed down significantly,” Kelly stated.

“There were some projects on the table which were put on hold, as nobody knew what would happen, or what was coming next. But, we had to find a way to operate and we had to release some guidelines and protocols, informing contractors how they should operate the sites in light of COVID-19,” he pointed out.

“Slowing down obviously led to a contraction in sales and a slowdown of expansion in the industry as, before COVID-19, we had expected a boom year. COVID-19 hampered us, but between May and June, after the Government gazetted the (exemption) protocols, which allowed us to start working late hours again, it eventually starting moving up back to where it was originally,” he confirmed.

In fact, things are moving so fast for stakeholders in the Joint Industrial Council (JIC) for the building and construction industry that they are hoping to tie up an agreement with the three main unions representing construction workers - the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), the National Workers Union (NWU), and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) - by next week.

CCCL recently signed an agreement with the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE), which represents technical staff, helping to ensure a peaceful period for an industry that has often been noted as the harbinger of growth.

In his statement on the situation as it affects CCCL last weekend, Castro predicted that without drastic interference from weather conditions, and if the market requires, the company will be able to exceed one million metric tonnes next time around.

He noted, however, that heavy rainfall, along with inconsistency in power supply, did hamper the mining process in the third quarter of last year resulting in some gaps in production during the period.

In terms of capital investment, he said that the company had invested more than J$22 billion in new equipment, upgrades, and maintenance, between 2015 and 2019 and, as a result, the Rockfort-based plant has become more modern, efficient and safe.

Looking back at last year's performance, Castro said that, throughout the 2020, safety remained a priority for the company, and the implementation of 52 new safety protocols to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 were strictly reinforced.

“Information on behaviours that save lives was also shared continually with employees, contractors, truck drivers, customers and all who visit the plant. As a result, the company has not experienced loss of productive time necessitated by closures due to the contraction of COVID-19,” he related.

STATIN reported last week that the construction subsector grew by a comparatively huge 7.2 per cent, compared to agriculture, forestry and fishing's 2.5 per cent, during the September 2020 quarter.

According to STATIN, these were the only subsectors recording growth in the goods-producing industry, which declined by 3.5 per cent. The other two subsectors — mining and quarrying, and manufacturing — contracted by 20.7 and 10.9 per cent, respectively.

STATIN summed up that the Jamaican economy increased by 8.3 per cent for the third quarter of 2020, when compared to the second quarter of 2020. The institute concluded that the increases in both the Services and Goods Producing Industries, of 8.0 per cent and 9.0 per cent respectively, reflected the relaxation in some of the measures instituted in the second quarter of 2020 to limit the spread of COVID-19.

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