Covid restrictions could hit construction of social housing

Minister concedes that closure could leave Republic trailing target

The Government hopes to build 9,500 social homes this year. Photograph: iStock

The Government hopes to build 9,500 social homes this year. Photograph: iStock

 

Covid-19 restrictions could hit social housing construction this year, Darragh O’Brien, the Government minister responsible, admitted on Wednesday.

Launching a report on Job Quality in Irish Construction by the Think tank on Action on Social Change (TASC), Mr O’Brien noted that the Government hopes to build 9,500 social homes this year.

“There will be some impact due to construction closures, but we will have the first quarter figures in the coming weeks and we will be able to assess what our delivery looks like then,” the Minister for Housing said.

He added that the 9,500 homes targeted for this year was a 22 per cent increase on 2020.

Construction pay

The report by TASC and the Chartered Institute of Building, states that pay in the Republic’s construction industry is good but “somewhat below the national average wage”.

This puts the State more or less on a par with most other EU countries. “There is, though, much variation between the occupational groups,” the report states.

“White collar construction workers are very well-paid, whereas blue-collar workers are somewhat below EU norms.”

Under laws setting the industry’s pay, carpenters and bricklayers earn €19.44 an hour, plumbers make between €22.73 and €23.60 an hour, while electricians’ hourly rates are €23.49 to €24.34.

Apprentices earn between one third and 90 per cent of fully-trained workers’ rates.

On average, figures show that builders earn €21.69 an hour against €23.88 for all workers. They work 37 hours a week compared with an average of 32.4 hours a week.

According to the report, professional or white collar workers do not have a formal way of setting their salaries, but are well paid relative to their EU peers as many have skills that are in demand.

Skills shortage

The report, written by Robert Sweeney of TASC, warns that construction is facing a shortage of skilled workers into the future.

“Skills shortages have emerged across the full range of trades, but the problem has been most acute in the so-called wet trades like bricklaying, plastering, painting and decorating, and tiling,” the document says.

Companies also say there are barriers to hiring apprentices, including “discontinuous demand for work”, tough legislation and the requirement to release them from sites for part of their training.

The work’s physically demanding nature deters new entrants, the document adds.

The report argues that the Government needs to tackle the industry’s “boom-bust” nature, which leads to more precarious employment.

The number of individual self-employed workers in the industry remains an issue, although the report notes that not all of these contractors are “bogus self-employed”.