‘remaining staff have had to become “Jack of all trades” to fulfil the orders still coming’
The following article is from a Director (who wishes to remain anonymous), who owns their own sand and gravel quarries. The company also delivers its own materials, does bulk earth removal and recycles waste spoil from construction sites. The company’s annual turnover is approximately £2.5 million. Prior to the current COVID-19 crisis, the business employed a total of 20 staff across its sites.
“It was business as usual for us on the morning of Tuesday 24th March (the day after the Government had announced its lockdown measures) as the construction industry had not officially been shut down. The guidelines were that if you were able to work from home, then do so, but that if that wasn’t an option then you would be able to go into work so long as you kept to the social distancing rules. However, we soon found that sites were closing due to lack of staff and that there wasn’t people to receive or load products. More sites closed throughout the week and by the end of it virtually all existing orders were cancelled.
At this time, it was difficult to get detailed information regarding the furlough scheme. There were many unanswered questions regarding it, for example, could construction companies or related businesses furlough staff? How long before we’d receive the money? How long could we furlough staff for? After several meetings I asked twelve on site staff to take a week off work unpaid to give us time to get more information to understand what help was available to us as a company. We were not in a position to finance all the wages (which we paid weekly) with the limited orders we had remaining and we didn’t want to increase our company’s debt levels to pay the wages. Unfortunately, despite all the research over the week, we were still in the dark regarding the furloughing of staff or the small business grants that were on offer. Although, we didn’t want to lose any of our staff, we just couldn’t afford to pay them without knowing whether or not they were eligible and it wasn’t fair to keep them hanging on until we had the answers. So we made the tough decision to lay 13 full time members of staff off. 1 member of staff asked if they could remain off work without pay instead for the time being to which we agreed. We only had enough work to keep 2 on site staff working alongside the office staff. The office staff were all part time and were told that their work would probably dry up over the coming weeks and could either continue to work but on reduced hours or be laid off. One of these asked to remain off work without pay until the lockdown was over, whilst the others decided to continue working and helping out where they could. We have since lost another member of staff as they couldn’t afford the cut in wages as they couldn’t get any government assistance whilst they were still working.
The remaining staff have had to become a “Jack of all trades” to fulfil the orders that still come in. I even have one of the office staff working in the office one minute and the next she is out delivering in our 7.5 tonne truck.
Despite all the stress, I have enjoyed getting back to basics and getting my hands dirty, going back to where I began my career. Orders are very slowly increasing thanks to the smaller building firms still working or beginning to return to work. We have a couple of local ready mix concrete companies still collecting and home owners are ordering sand and gravel to complete their DIY projects, now they have some time on their hands.
Social distancing measures are relatively straightforward, with our plant operators remaining in their vehicles at all times, delivery and collection dockets are not currently requiring signatures and we are encouraging all payments to be via BACs or credit cards.
I feel that the future is still very uncertain and “normal” order levels returning, a long way off. Even once the lockdown has been lifted, the company will face the consequences of the resulting recession I fear we will face. We have now received the small business grant of £10,000 from the local council, which has helped with costs and have managed to get a three month payment holiday on the majority of our asset finance contracts. I have no interest in increasing our debt levels during these uncertain times, we will continue to adapt our business strategy to ensure our survival instead.”