Home Contractor's Corner Profit before people?

Profit before people?

by Jennie Ward

Coronavirus-related delays and productivity levels have, and will, cause disputes in the roofing industry. Stuart Hicks, CEO of the Institute of Roofing (IoR), offers advice on how we can avoid such conflict.

Stuart Hicks, CEO of the Institute of Roofing.

Between 2010 and 2014, the financial costs of disputes in the UK construction industry increased from £4.6 billion to £17.6 billion. The length of time it takes to resolve disagreements through litigation is frequently measured in years, and implications on finances and other resources can be immense. 

These figures are outlined within the newest initiative set up by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICs) and endorsed by Construction Leadership Council (CLC).

The Conflict Avoidance Pledge was developed in response to the predicted delays caused by the COVID-19 crisis, which could see many firms heading for the courts to resolve contract disputes later down the line. 

Some main contractors have already signed up to the pledge and are encouraged to work collaboratively and use early intervention techniques to resolve issues before they escalate. 

But where does this leave roofing subcontractors? As an MD, Supervisor or Manager within a roofing firm, there will be many pressures put upon individuals overseeing employees and projects, which could lead into a costly conflict if not resolved.  

Be consistent 
The wrath of inconsistency can be seen on a national level as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all taken a slightly different stance on ‘back to work’ policies during the pandemic. 

This then has a knock-on effect within individual organisations across the supply chain, causing confusion, delays, and potential unsafe working environments with some roofing contractors feeling obliged to leave their home to work. 

This is putting pressure on the entire industry, especially with those projects based in a different country within the UK, and subcontractors having to cross borders to reach sites. 

Despite the regional governments communicating different rules, make sure your organisation discusses and agrees on a policy that complies, is right for you and your staff, and stick to it. As this is a constantly changing situation, you may need to adapt that policy when required. Effectively communicate any changes to both employees and customers to ensure consistency. 

Paying on time
One of the biggest stresses for any individual is not being paid on time, or at all. Issues with late payments and owed invoices have a huge impact on the mental wellbeing of a person. This, in turn, can create conflict, knee-jerk reactions and irrational decision-making – especially during times of national and global emergency. 

Late payments are already an issue in our sector and in April, during the peak of the pandemic, the CLC also published an advice statement on payment and contracts in regards to the management of the construction supply chain. It emphasised the importance of existing contractual payment terms continuing to apply and made it clear that businesses should not unilaterally delay payment.

At the same time, a group of leading UK judges – including two former heads of the UK Supreme Court – and academics, made a plea for commercial disputes to be resolved before they reach the courts to avoid a “deluge of litigation” in the wake of the pandemic.

The Government has introduced a number of support measures to assist businesses impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, including the Job Retention Scheme, deferral of VAT payment and loan arrangements. Although not an ideal scenario, there is help out there and it should be investigated to help ease the pressure, without immediately delving into a no payment strategy. 

Enhance skills
In trying times like these, you need to be able to rely on yourself as well as your workforce. Aside from the health and safety aspect, that can happen if you and they are treated well, with respect, and are recognised for skills. This is where online training can help.

The Institute of Roofing offers an online learning course in Conflict Resolution in the Workplace. This course considers what conflict is, as well as its impact and role in the workplace. It looks at some of the triggers for workplace conflict and how it develops before looking at a number of different ways of managing it.

Members are eligible to take up one free online learning course a year, which cost £25+VAT each normally. To assist at this time, the IoR has reduced the cost to £15+VAT.  

These courses are independently certified by leading bodies and include Abrasive Wheels, Fire Safety, Working at Height, Manual Handling, First Aid, Asbestos Awareness and Fire Marshal. These are also the six areas required to be covered for the RoofCERT accreditation programme, which provides individual roofers with visible proof of their essential roofing and safety management skills.

The IoR also has an online benefits portal of training and e-learning options, which can only be accessed by members, but we encourage them to share the information and knowledge using the tools from the portal with colleagues, family and friends.  

Putting people first
With the UK lockdown being in force for many weeks, it is easy to see why people were keen to get back to work – not only to avoid economic downturn, but for their own mental well-being. 

Adapting to change and being flexible are skills we will no doubt have to implement to ensure a collaborative and stronger industry. It’s important we don’t put profit before people by making irrational decisions, but balance this by ensuring we are flexible with customers and suppliers so misunderstandings, delays or accidental mistakes don’t cause a costly dispute. Contractors or subcontractors should not be bullied into working if they have genuine safety concerns for their employees, nor should they be allowed to hold clients to ransom. But they must get as watertight an agreement as possible before work commences, or problems will fester.


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