Fit, healthy and coping

By Rhonda Dredge

Outdoor workers are now highly visible in the CBD and many are upbeat about the value of their jobs in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

An estimated 6000 outdoor workers include those in construction, sanitation, recycling, waste disposal, tree maintenance, by-laws and horticulture. 

In mid-April there were 5447 CFMEU members working at 44 construction sites in the CBD, 100 City of Melbourne sanitation officers, about 20 by-laws officers and 150 Citywide waste disposal and maintenance staff. 

It was business as usual for many of these workers who enjoy the physical and mental benefits of working outdoors and were expressing pride in their contribution to the wellbeing of the city. 

Construction foreman Paul Eades, at the Paragon apartments construction site on La Trobe St, was on the corner organising a delivery between rain showers. 

“We’re helping keep the economy afloat,” he told CBD News. “We’re keeping construction workers active and employed and they, in turn, support local businesses.” 

“There’s all sorts of guys here – cleaners, carpenters, plumbers, electricians. Everyone’s doing their bit. Construction guys go out and spend money and keep the micro-economy going.”

He said that jobs were now more complex. “These are different times. We have to be flexible.” Workers are not moving between sites, he said, but “it’s safer at work than in a supermarket.”

The CFMEU is open in Elizabeth St to sort out issues for workers and enforce safety regulations, which include cleaning, split shifts and distancing. Their motto is: Fear stops you. Courage keeps you going. 

Outdoor workers don’t usually get to express their views but now they are more willing “given the extraordinary times,” said horticulturalist, Amanda Sorenson, who was picking out the dead heads in the summer blooms on Swanston St.

“If you want plants when you get back you need to think 12 months in advance. They need constant attention,” she said. 

The weather was getting a bit chilly and she was thinking about the next planting for the city’s popular floral displays. 

“I’m active all the time,” she told CBD News. “There’s more opportunity for mindfulness in this sort of work. I live quite remotely and have a full lifestyle. I don’t do social media. I don’t live on Facebook.” 

Citywide workers have also been active during the lockdown with some cleaning vehicles seen dashing along footpaths in the middle of the day. 

“Access has improved due to reduced pedestrian and traffic movement,” said  Matt Williams, Melbourne Citywide manager. 

He said that recycling, rubbish removal and tree maintenance services were being maintained. “We have noticed an increase in domestic waste due to people remaining at home,” he said.

By-laws officers are also out and about, booking vehicles in red zones but allowing meetings of essential services to be held in parks providing social distancing is maintained.  

On April 9, workers from the Westside Place construction site, at the corner of Lonsdale and Spencer streets, laid out glass samples on the grass of the Flagstaff Gardens for the new Dorset Hotel. 

Architect Ian Grant, of CBD-based company Cottee Parker, got a break from his home office to sign off on the glass.

He said that Westside Place was at stage two and that, so far, the time frame and deliverables were on track, despite the reduction in the number of workers on lifts from 20 to four.

“Once this is over everything will go back to normal,” he said. “This virus won’t change the way we live. We’ll just be a bit more mindful of distance.” •

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