The Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging recognition of the unique role plumbers, HVAC specialists and similar contractors play in keeping essential services running and asking for support as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to advance.
The missive, sent March 30, makes the case that in addition to new-build construction, the sector delivers important services and repairs for building systems including plumbing, gas, ventilation, heating and cooling systems — functions critical to daily life and health care during the outbreak.
Many of the firms are small and medium-sized and their survival will be threatened with a slowdown in projects, said Ken Lancastle, COO of MCAC, in a recent interview.
“Mechanical contractors are incredibly innovative, they are agile, they adapt, they understand that every project is done under different circumstances,” Lancastle said.
“But the sense we get, what we are seeing, there are so many unknowns. There is not a playbook out there for what we are doing, from an association perspective or from a contractor’s perspective,” said Lancastle.
The MCAC represents 1,000 contractor firms in the sector, which besides plumbing and HVAC includes control systems, medical gases, welding and fire suppression primarily in the ICI sector.
Lancastle said surveys conducted by the MCAC have indicated that health and safety during the pandemic was the primary concern of 75 per cent of member contractors, followed by workforce issues, project concerns and contractual issues.
The letter to Trudeau urged a national, coordinated response to help the sector including effective and enforced protocols for health and safety; recognition that the pandemic is an event outside the control of contractors and that any delays should be treated as such; financial support for firms affected by site closures and project delays; and that “accountability on the part of the contractor firm for COVID-19-related claims be removed.”
MCAC CEO Tania Johnston noted that so far stakeholder associations, governments and others in the sector have worked together coherently, with organizations like the Canadian Construction Association showing leadership in creating valuable health and safety standards, for example, but the two MCAC executives said the next stage of measures should include initiatives that meet the special needs of sectors like the mechanical trades.
On health and safety, Lancastle said, the MCAC was developing its own protocols recognizing the particular work spaces, such as enclosures, that the mechanical trades work in.
The new standards would be issued any day now, said Johnston.
“It is important to have a safe work environment to ensure that important work can continue, because our workers are fundamental to the health and safety of Canadians and the building systems that we live with,” said Lancastle.
As for supports for the sector, Lancastle said the MCAC did not have specific measures to propose at this time, but rather the association was staking ground to ensure that future support was developed in recognition of the sector’s needs.
For example, he stated, legislation to waive delay claims that will inevitably be faced by small and medium-sized contractors would be welcomed.
“We want to make sure our members are going to be able to get back to work if they are not working and they not going to be punished as a result of any delays experienced as a result of the pandemic,” Lancastle said.
“There are going to be some problems with cash flow as a result of this as well so we need to provide support for contractors so cash flow and liquidity remain available so they can handle delays occurring now or are able to start back up again when things get back to normal.”
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