The local residential construction industry's track record of complying with safety laws has led the ACT government to be cautious about reopening the sector, Chief Minster Andrew Barr said.
Mr Barr said a continued shutdown of the residential construction industry, while large sites could get back to work, was designed to limit the number of interactions between people in the community.
"The larger sites with larger workforces have demonstrated, not just here but around Australia, to be more effective in their safety and their Covid safe protocols. Much more effective," Mr Barr said.
The ACT's peak builders association has put pressure on the government to include residential projects in its reopening of the construction sector, saying the "unfair" decision to overlook them will put businesses at risk and leave clients in limbo.
The Master Builders Association ACT launched an online petition calling for all construction to be allowed to resume on September 3, not just government projects, large-scale developments and civil work.
The petition has attracted more than 2300 signatures just hours since it went live.
The association's chief executive, Michael Hopkins, said the decision to exclude small-scale projects from next week's reopening plan made "no sense" and had angered the sector.
He said the safety protocols developed for the industry could be implemented on both small and large building sites.
"By leaving the small-scale projects out of the reopening plan the financial and mental health impacts on the industry and community will be exacerbated," Mr Hopkins said.
"The government's reopening plan means that a builder can work on an ACT government housing project, but the same builder can't work next door on a new home for a first home buyer or someone renting temporary accommodation until their new home is finished."
The ACT's construction sector was forced to abruptly shut down as Canberra was thrust into a snap lockdown earlier the month.
On Sunday, Mr Barr said restrictions could only be eased when the increased risk could be managed, not when thousands sign petitions or industry groups thump the table.
"There's an overarching question of how much movement is there because the flow-on implications of people going back to work is more kids in childcare, more kids needing to attend school, more movement; all those people who work will duck out for a coffee, or get lunch. When you are trying to suppress a deadly virus, you prefer not to have that," he said.
The Chief Minister said large work sites had demonstrated they could effectively manage Covid safety requirements, which was not reflected across the entire construction industry.
"At one end you have excellent compliance. Builders, constructors, MBA members who take things, safety, exceptionally seriously - and pride themselves on it," he said.
"And then at the other end of the spectrum you have some in the industry who think the whole thing is optional.
"And I just simply point to the track record of the ACT construction industry in terms of its safety. You think you would understand why the government would have some caution, why this needs to be a stepped and staged process."
The government has faced pressure to allow the sector, which remained open throughout last year's lockdown, to restart - including from Liberal senator Zed Seselja.
Mr Barr on Friday announced a plan to gradually reopen the sector from September 3. The plan was welcomed in some sections, with ACT Property Council executive director Adina Cirson describing it as a "very good step in the right direction".
The builders group's petition, launched overnight on Saturday, said the decision to green light only government projects, civil works and large-scale developments was "unfair and would put the livelihoods of many small businesses at risk".
It warned homebuyers could face homelessness, or be forced to find expensive temporary accommodation, because of the residential sector shutdown.
Local construction union, the CFMEU, on Friday called on the ACT government to reopen construction sites sooner.
The union's ACT assistant branch secretary Zachary Smith said the construction industry had shown it was able to manage Covid risks on worksites.
"There can be not shortcuts and no place for complacency and any builders that contravene Covid-safe rules once the industry has reopened, they should be penalised," Mr Smith said.
ACT opposition leader Elizabeth Lee used a social media post on Sunday morning to call on Mr Barr to set out a clear plan for the sector's reopening.
"If smaller projects are able to comply with the same safety protocols there is no reason why they should be shut out of the plans to safely re-commence construction activity within the health advice," she wrote.
"These smaller businesses are facing enormous challenges not knowing how they will pay their mortgage, put food on the table or pay their next electricity bill and they are no closer to a clear plan on when they can re-commence work."
Ms Lee wrote to Mr Barr on Friday to urge the ACT government to reconsider the staged reopening plan for the construction industry.
"Smaller businesses are also absolutely committed to and are capable of complying with safety protocols to protect themselves and the wider Canberra community," Ms Lee wrote, in a letter provided to The Canberra Times.
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