More than 1,300 construction workers joined the dole queues in the North over the last three months, industry representatives today.
The total number of builders, carpenters, electricians and other labourers laid off during the downturn is now approaching 28,000, according to the Construction Employers Federation (CEF).
While there are signs that the North is emerging from recession, the CEF said the rate of job losses in its trade is actually increasing.
The 1,335 increase in those claiming unemployment benefit between November 2009 and January this month compares to a rise of only 365 over the previous six months.
A ’State of the Trade’ survey by CEF showed that more than half of respondents expect their workload to be lower this year than last.
John Armstrong, managing director of the federation said: “2009 has been one of the most difficult years on record for the local construction industry. Many companies have downsized considerably over the last twelve months.
“It is extremely concerning to think that layoffs will continue in 2010.
“The painful shockwaves of the collapse in construction activity are gradually being felt throughout the whole economy – far beyond our own sector.”
He called on local political leaders to take unprecedented and effective action to use the construction industry as the catalyst for economic recovery.
“Every £1 (€1.13) invested in construction generates £2.84 (€3.23) in economic activity,” he added.
“Pound for pound, the taxpayer could not get better value for money than this sort of investment.
“There is already immense pressure to cut overall capital investment levels. It is seen as the ’easy option’ when making savings but protecting funding for the building and maintaining of our public infrastructure should now be an overriding priority for the Executive.
“There needs to be an open debate about how savings can be made in order to allow a redistribution of funds into the building and maintaining of our infrastructure.
“CEF acknowledges that such redistribution will require difficult decisions on where the funds are taken from but we believe that the Executive must show strong leadership at this time. This presents an opportunity for our leaders to show that devolution delivers.
“Cutting investment in construction might not immediately strike you as the sort of measure that would greatly affect the average man or woman but when you think of the negative impact it has on the economy, the thousands of workers that depend on that investment and the detrimental impact on public services, it is clear that every citizen of Northern Ireland would lose out if public investment in construction was reduced.”
The Federation also acknowledged the important role the house building sector has to play in revitalising the local economy and urged lending institutions to support the sector by increasing mortgage availability, particularly for first-time buyers.
“We also believe that the Northern Ireland Executive should take proactive steps to facilitate an increase in private house building,” Mr Armstrong added.