Businesses busy, but not all happy with the rules

LOCKDOWN aftershocks were felt across some of the 600-plus businesses who returned to work yesterday.

Back to work yesterday for Norman Piette employee John Pigg as the company tried to catch up with a ‘manic’ number of orders by working shifts and hiring extra delivery vehicles. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29267627)
Back to work yesterday for Norman Piette employee John Pigg as the company tried to catch up with a ‘manic’ number of orders by working shifts and hiring extra delivery vehicles. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29267627)

Following strict safety criteria, stage one of the island’s exit from lockdown began with non-public facing businesses allowed to operate with restrictions.

It saw sectors such as professional services in offices, construction, and light manufacturing, restricted to a maximum of five workers indoors, or 10 outside.

Norman Piette, the largest timber and builder’s merchant in Guernsey, has had lots of requests for construction material, as the industry was one of the first sectors that can begin work.

The group’s CEO, John Bampkin, said it had begun operating a delivery only service, before introducing collections for traders from today as it continued to manage the ‘manic’ amount of orders and work they had on its hands.

‘It seems to be OK, we have a few hundred transactions that we’re working with and though that’s normal, we’re down to around 15 staff, including delivery drivers, from 100,’ he said.

‘We’re working extended hours with some shifts starting at 6am and then other shifts finishing at 10pm. We want to catch up and get on top of everything.

‘The rules are very restrictive, but we’re pleased to be back doing something and want to play our part.’

It has also hired two extra delivery vehicles to deal with demand.

RG Falla managing director Mark Palfrey, however, said for it, as a premier building contractor, although it was grateful to have the option to return, the restriction in numbers of people on site meant it was not economically viable.

‘Five people is just scratching the surface of what needs to be done, it’s just one supervisor and four people being productive at the moment and that’s not economical,’ he said.

‘Two weeks ago we, as an industry, proposed a solution to work safely for one person per 50sq. m. which we thought was practical. The rule of five, there’s no evidence for this anywhere in the world, the number has just been plucked from thin air.

‘Don’t get me wrong, we’d rather not be sat at home, it’s good for the staff’s mental wellbeing to return, and we have clients we want to show progress to, but it’s not as much as we want to do.’

He said it felt like they were not back yet and were just having a ‘fiddle round the edges’.

‘One project we had 120 staff on it, so I think the number should be proportionate to the size,’ he said.

‘It is a frustration as economically it would be cheaper to stay at home and be on furlough, but it’s not in it together.

‘We just hope this stage is short and we can do more, it will get to the point where there won’t be the supply and it won’t be viable – Norman Piette, Ronez, JW Rihoy can only do so much.’

The call was for recognition that the rule for five indoors and 10 outdoors was not a one rule for all, as it did not fit every business.

It was not an issue for Guernsey Sheet Metal 1993 Ltd, though, which was excited to get back to work.

Owner Ade Vaudin said he remained optimistic.

‘I’ve get to keep positive and there’ll hopefully be a lot more light at the end of the tunnel soon,’ he said.

‘It’s my own business so I’ve got to think like that, and while this time has been difficult, when last time we had some protective plastic work that we could do. We hope it’ll pick up. The sooner we can move on from this stage the better.’

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