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Builders report dreadful start to 2011

Construction firms are reporting a dreadful start to 2011 with turnover taking a huge drop from last year.

Former Construction Association of Bermuda president Alex DeCouto said his firm, Greymane Contracting, achieved only half its average monthly turnover in January and February.

Industry insiders say many hundreds of workers remain unemployed, while small businesses are cutting hours and can't plan for the future as they don't know of any clear opportunities on the horizon.

Many small and medium firms are said to be unlikely to benefit from the redevelopment of King Edward VII Memorial Hospital and Waterloo House, Bermuda's two major projects for 2011. One new project to construct a warehouse in Industrial Park Road, Southampton, announced yesterday, will create up to 20 labour jobs [see today's Business pages], but construction sources described that as a drop in the bucket when so many people remain out of work.

Mr DeCouto said yesterday: “There are winners and losers out there. The guys just starting the hospital and Waterloo House are probably quite optimistic, or at least not pessimistic.

“BCM McAlpine [the firm behind the hospital and warehouse] have managed to come out on top. But I think it's going to put more pressure on us medium and small contractors who will start to fight for what else is out there.

“January and February for Greymane were horrible. Our turnover, month to month, was half of what it needs to be.

“It could have been just a Christmas hangover, but we don't usually get one of those.

“The real problem is I just don't know what's ahead. There are projects you can bid on, but you only win one out of every ten.

“Even if we win one of those ten, it will be only for a short duration not like Waterloo House or the warehouse. It's a real case of cutting costs, reducing hours, fixing people at 40 hours.”

Mr DeCouto said of the construction industry in general: “There's a very large portion of people out there who've been out of work for a good stretch of time.”

He said some workers would get chances with the big projects, but some unemployed people's skills wouldn't match up with what's available. Two months ago, Bermuda Employers' Council director Martin Law warned this year would be bleak as he called for Government to hold honest dialogue on the subject.

Yesterday, Mr Law said: “Things certainly haven't got any better. There's nothing out there that is new that is substantial that will make any difference. It remains a grim time for construction workers.”

He said construction jobs are dependent on foreign investment stimulating the economy.

Mr Law and Mr DeCouto have both bemoaned Government's failure to provide up-to-date employment figures.

According to the National Economic Report of Bermuda, an estimated 3,045 people were employed in construction and quarrying in 2010, down from 3,488 in 2009. It's not known how many of those are foreigners.

Two months ago, insiders estimated Bermuda had 2,000 unemployed construction workers.

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Published March 04, 2011 at 9:05 am (Updated March 04, 2011 at 9:05 am)

Builders report dreadful start to 2011

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