BCCA tackles construction’s issues in ‘unprecedented circumstances’

Journal of Commerce | Russell Hixson | March 23, 2020

VICTORIA, B.C. – The BC Construction Association (BCCA) says it is working on several fronts to advocate for the industry and keep members informed as the COVID-19 pandemic grows in severity.

One pressing issue is force majeure contract terms which the association is calling on Ottawa to retool in response to COVID-19 impacts.

“These are unprecedented circumstances and the federal government has responded with unprecedented support with $82-billion COVID-19 Economic Response Plan and changes to some EI (Employment Insurance), mortgage and tax regulations,” said Chris Atchison, BCCA president.

“We also need government to look at force majeure contract terms to implement a standardized definition of force majeure that includes ‘quarantine restrictions’ and/or ‘epidemics’ so contaminated sites can shut down, free of penalty.”

To keep members up to date on relevant information, the association has created a dedicated webpage to updates on safety recommendations, contracts, employer workforces, financial assistance and more.

In addition, the association has released its “virtual hotline” to gather the observations, questions and requests for guidance from key players in the construction sector. They’ve also assembled a team of industry experts to support BCCA and any survey/hotline participants that request assistance.

This week the association will be hosting a virtual town hall of large construction employers from across the province to help co-ordinate responses and share best practises and concerns.

One of the issues top of mind for many, is how to get relief to companies and employees who may need it, explained the association’s president.

“We’re working with our industry benefits provider, the BCCA Employee Benefits Trust, to find ways we might offer relief for member companies and their employees,” said Atchison. “We have to do as much as possible to support our entire industry during this crisis and nothing can be construed as enough or an over-reaction. It’s just necessary and the right thing to do.”

Atchison said everyone has a role to play to fight the spread and impact of the virus. Companies are adjusting their work environments spreading workers out and nixing large meetings for small ones.

“At these meetings they reinforce the messaging around prevention and create an environment where workers feel comfortable taking action for their health – staying home when sick, self-isolating – behaviours that were not common practise in our sector before,” said Atchison. “These are unprecedented circumstances for everyone. Across sectors there will be conversations coming out of this crisis that changes the way business will be done moving forward.”

Atchison explained that in the construction sector these changes need to be developed with the construction companies and employees in order to fully understand the barriers and innovations needed and to get buy-in and behaviour shifts.

“Some construction sites, such as new builds where structures are just going up, don’t typically have access to running water, as there are no services hooked up during construction,” he noted. “Many of the solutions will generate additional challenges or issues that will need to be addressed as well.”

When asked what concerns companies were raising, Atchison provided the following list:

  • Access to hand sanitizing supplies for people, equipment and vehicles
  • Contractors facing assignment penalties due to delays caused by delays in shipments
  • Government support for employers in the face of payment delays and project slowdowns
  • Human resources questions regarding reducing staff/workers
  • Limitations to site inspections
  • Cancelled tenders
  • Project cancellations or holds
  • Supply chain issues
  • Revenue uncertainty
  • Workers unavailable to due self-quarantining
  • EI issues