Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said building sites can continue to operate in Ireland despite calls for them to be shut to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The Unite trade union demanded work be halted saying social distancing measures cannot be maintained on construction sites.
“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,” said Unite’s regional officer for construction Tom Fitzgerald.
“The result is that 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,” said Mr Fitzgerald.
However, construction activity is set to continue with workers being told to practise strict social distancing.
The Taoiseach said that significant construction activity is taking place on important pharmaceutical and health-related projects.
The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) also issued a joint statement highlighting the essential projects that workers are delivering.
“Construction workers are to be commended for continuing to operate safely as they deliver essential projects that enable essential services including emergency health facilities, sewerage, electricity, power, data and water, all critical to society,” said CIF director general Tom Parlon.
“We urge contractors and workers to work together to enforce social distancing regardless of any impacts on productivity or deadlines,” he said.
The CIF said that social distancing is also critical off-site and said that workers should not travel in groups and while visiting local businesses must maintain the 1-2 metre distance guideline.
General secretary of Ictu, Patricia King, said they will continue to watch the situation closely.
“Essentially, workers should adhere to social distancing guidelines, carry out regular hand washing, and use gloves and masks if possible to help contain the spread of the virus in the workplace,” said Ms King.
A similar debate is taking place in the UK with construction activity allowed to continue despite calls for building sites to be shut.
Major construction firms such as Multiplex, Taylor Wimpey, Barratt Developments Plc, and Galliard Homes said they will begin closing all building sites from today.
The Construction Industry Council in the UK was seeking “much-needed clarity” from the government on the status of building sites under the Covid-19 measures, which will remain in place for at least three weeks.