John Matthews, president of Master Builders South Africa
Q: What is Master Builders South Africa (MBSA)? A: MBSA is a federation of employers regulated in terms of the Labour Relations Act. We are mainly responsible for protecting and promoting the interests of builders in SA. We have eight regional associations and three affiliate members, with a combined membership of about 4 000 construction companies. We are an advocacy federation that represents all those construction companies.
Q: How would you describe SA’s construction industry? A: The local industry is facing an unprecedented decline. It’s actually on its knees right now, for a number of reasons. One of these is sluggish economic growth, which affects spending power by both the private and public sector.
The government’s inability to spend infrastructure budgets means that lots of money is allocated for infrastructure development and maintenance but very little is spent, and that municipalities and departments are unable to spend all allocated funds for infrastructure development. Then, government is not paying its contractors: our member companiesare currently owed about R5.5 billion for work done, and those payments are still outstanding. The Eskom situation is devastating and has had dire consequences for the industry. For contractors, load shedding means loss of working hours and loss of profit; for employees in the construction sector it means potential loss of a job and income on the ‘no-work, no-pay’ basis.
Finally, there’s the so-called ‘construction mafia’. They masquerade as champions of transformation, while employing criminal tactics to intimidate contractors, assault workers, stop construction works and kill contractors. SA is one of the only countries – if not the only one – where you’ll find a builder building and a thug demolishing at the same time, without any consequence whatsoever. It is estimated that the ‘construction mafia’ phenomenon has affected more than R25 billion worth of projects.
Q: What can bodies such as MBSA do to stop that? A: We have appealed to the government for help with the construction mafia, but very little has been done in this regard. As an employer entity, our role is to sharply raise this behaviour to law enforcement bodies, who are trained to deal with those illegal acts. We created a ‘to-do’ list for our members in the event of their construction sites being illegally invaded.
Part of the recommended approach is to refer such invaders to a local master builders association for attention where necessary. Our approach is only limited to legal means, so we rely a lot on law enforcement to help us.
Q: Some small-scale building projects are done by ‘fly-by-night’ operations, or people who simply don’t have the necessary skills. What is MBSA doing about this? A: We encourage easy entrance to the industry. MBSA has embarked on a consistent contractor-development programme aimed specifically at emerging contractors. MBSA associations have emerging contractor categories that were created with a view to encouraging emerging contractors to belong to an employer body and increase their business and technical skillset.
The risk of ‘fly-by-night’ operations is very much our problem, as it adversely affects the reputation of our industry, our members and the community at large. Freedom of choice does allow the client to select their own contractor, but we encourage the public to appoint a contractor who is affiliated to our regional associations and adopts its code of conduct when doing business.
Q: In his State of the Nation Address, President Ramaphosa said that the Infrastructure Fund has a project pipeline of potential investments worth more than R700 billion over the next 10 years. What is the significance of that? A: Any announcement relating to available infrastructure spend is good news to us. Our concern has always been that such announcements do not come with plans to ensure that such budgets are being spent. If government was able to spend a significant portion of its announced amount, the construction industry would be saved from total collapse.
Q: How is MBSA improving – or at least enforcing – quality standards in the trade? A: Through our regional master builders associations, we implement apprenticeship and learnership programmes aimed at skilling new entrants to the industry. Members of master builders associations are expected to subscribe to a code of conduct, including provision of quality work.
Q: How is MBSA promoting a culture of health and safety in local building? A: We promote and encourage our members to comply with construction health and safety regulations. MBSA has a standalone occupational health and safety (OHS) committee, which considers all aspects of OHS. To promote compliance in a positive way, master builders associations run OHS competitions, which then become a national safety competition with a special awards session at our annual congress. Our longstanding relationship with Federated Employers’ Mutual has enabled us to do more in this regard.