Firms in building sector on brink
Complaining about the persistent dearth of work in construction, many of the island’s ready mix concrete and block suppliers and building contractors said they were sinking under the weight of a struggling industry.
The businesses added that they were having a hard time keeping their workers employed, with some torn between severing employees and holding on, hoping that things would improve before they go under.
Investigations by Barbados TODAY yesterday afternoon revealed a group of firms desperate for a turnaround in the construction sector and barely able to make ends meet.
At Lewis Concrete Mix at Tichbourne, Howells Cross Road, St Michael, business has crawled to a virtual stop, Managing Director Vernon Lewis said.
He has kept his doors open for the time being but he was not sure how long he could hold on. In the meantime, he has had cut the work week.
“It isn’t no full week no more because there isn’t enough work out there . . . I don’t know what is going to happen soon because I think we at the bottom right now . . . I don’t think we could go much further. Anything further, the doors gine got tuh shut,” Lewis said.
Emphasizing the difficult road his company has had to travel, the businessman explained that his firm was approaching the point of no return.
Among his greatest concerns was the fate of the many unskilled workers who depend on his sector of the construction industry for a living.
“They don’t have a trade, but they could do little things like probably help drive a Bobcat, load this, or do that or clean a truck . . . There are very many offshoots in this sector, it is unbelievable.
“I don’t know how much further we can go, cause yuh been holding tight and injecting money into yuh business . . . all yuh savings, so yuh soon at the end uh de road,” Lewis lamented.
“One time yuh used to hold a guy and at least give him five days rather than seven cause you were at a peak where you used to work every day; then you work down to five . . . and now you just trying to give him a three-day [week]. If you keep him ‘round de place you still got to pay national insurance for him which you aint really got. Yuh aint getting nuh money coming in, so yuh can’t keep them around now,” he stressed.
Lewis did not anticipate benefitting from the array of planned Government capital projects, predicting that larger businesses would get the contracts. Still, he was hoping that some of it would trickle down to the “small man”.
Meanwhile, a top executive of one of the island’s major concrete suppliers also lamented the stagnation that has hit the industry. The executive, who did not want to be identified, pointed out that the torpidity had sparked a fierce competition war among counterpart businesses.
One of the country’s leading construction entities, Rayside Construction, has also been feeling the impact of the sluggishness that is threating to chock the sector.
Spokesman Herbert Harewood acknowledged that jobs were scarce due to the downturn in construction.
However, it was not all doom as the construction stakeholders all agreed that they were benefitting from the fall in cement prices.
Chairman of one of the biggest consumers of concrete, Innotech Services Limited, Anthony Tony Dasilva, told Barbados TODAY his company had been enjoying the trickle down savings since the price of cement began to drop late last year.
These sentiments were echoed by the executives with whom Barbados TODAY spoke, as well as an official source at CEMIX at Bless Bess, St Peter, one of the largest suppliers of ready mix concrete here.
While many of the stakeholders cried out for work, the Central Bank of Barbados said in its second-quarter Economic Review 2016, that “construction activity is estimated to have expanded by about two per cent, based on available indicators such as imports of construction materials, employment in the sector and construction projects currently underway.