When do we return?

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell weighs up the difficult decision of when the industry should return to work.

We are now into our fifth week of lockdown which, given everything that it entails, is a remarkable achievement. Hopefully, we will be able to look back at the spring of 2020 with a certain amount of pride; that a collective national (and arguably global) effort stopped a deadly disease in its tracks.

May 11 is being discussed as a possible date when the country will return to work. If this is the case, the lockdown will probably be lifted on May 7, which is a Thursday, and we will go straight into a bank holiday weekend. None if this is certain by the way.

Therefore, it is not unreasonable for company owners to develop a strategy to ready their businesses for work, and many are suggesting that May 4 could be a sensible starting point.

There are some who say that doing nothing until lockdown is actually lifted is the correct and proper thing to do because it is in line with government guidelines. It also helps to protect employees and customers.

However, the government hasn’t actually told manufacturers to shut down, and from what I have seen unions are on board as long as social distancing measures are in place.

“Since the coronavirus crisis began Unite has been at the forefront of ensuring that social distancing occurs in the workplace,” Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said. “In many cases it has forced employers to radically improve their procedures.”

It appears that the whole of our industry (or, at least, the vast majority of it) shut down at almost exactly the same time. It wouldn’t be possible to restart an entire industry with the same co-ordination. In fact, it makes sense for component suppliers and manufacturers to slowly ramp up production and delivery schedules so that they are in a position to handle new orders as homeowners allow tradespeople on their premises again.

Furthermore, some manufacturers have commercial construction customers, from which they are under pressure to supply, and need an operating supply chain to make that happen.

This was on Roseview’s Mike Bygrave’s mind when he organised a rolling survey “to come to some sort of consensus about when the time is right to re-open”.

Please take part – the more who do, the more relevant it will be.

Mike shared some of the results at the second Covid-19 Circle meeting on Monday.

Here is a quick summary: a broad spread of company types responded; most respondents work in retail, arguably the toughest market to get back; 61% said they were under full shutdown – not even keeping a bare minimum of sales/office staff going; and 86% did not know when they will reopen (“these are exactly the sort of people we think could benefit from a co-ordinated return to work, which is why we’re running the survey,” Mike said).

Mike drew these conclusions prior to the government’s announcement of a lockdown extension, and some fabricators’ announcements that they were returning to work. Yet, interestingly, the figures didn’t alter in the days following when more companies took the survey.

This is a rolling survey, so even if you have already taken it, you are welcome to resubmit your answers.

Finally, I want to take my hat off in the most reverent way possible to Ryan Green of Clayton Glass for arranging the Covid-19 Circle meeting, to which I referred earlier. Up to 50 companies took part in two conference calls with the aim of co-ordinating a smooth return to work.

Getting the industry to discuss issues openly and honestly from kitchen tables and home offices is a remarkable achievement, and could help facilitate a situation that avoids complete chaos when red turns to green.

There were some very interesting conversations with some very useful outcomes – Glass Times will continue to report on developments.