My Experience with Business Forums in the Construction Industry

My Experience with Business Forums in the Construction Industry

There has been a lot of headlines lately with the so-called ‘business forums’ interrupting Construction projects around the country. The Hard Hat Professional has recently asked our community members to share their views on this hot topic. 

In this post, Nishok Nundlall  CEO at JSR  shares his experience in dealing with business forums.

Have you dealt before with ‘Business Forums’?

I did in fact deal with a business forum which operates within the greater North Coast area during my time at a construction project in the upmarket Umhlanga suburb.

However, their visit to the project was based on genuine grievances brought up by labour employed at the site who came from their communities.

Their approach was professional, asking if they could speak to us regarding the issues raised. Only after retaliation and an untoward attitude towards them by the contracts manager did they become a little less professional.

Do you have a solution on how the construction industry can deal with this phenomenon?

I believe that the industry’s approach towards the forums, as well as the attitudes displayed by project management when approached by the forums, need to change. We need to move towards inclusivity of the forums throughout the project management cycle for they do form part of the stakeholders.

It starts with an open dialogue between both parties to understand how we can operate in a system of mutual benefit. We cannot only speak about equity and empowerment; we need to act on it.

Business Forums also need to ensure that members and the organisation are free of any bias and do not act upon false allegations but rather on the genuine plight of the communities.

They should not allow themselves to be drawn into issues that arise between subcontractors and the main contractor. They are here to serve the people, and that should be their main aim as an organisation.

Is the industry doing enough to deal with this problem?

I think the industry is not doing enough to deal with the issue and the attitudes of management individuals who see these forums only as a threat also do nothing to help. We need to move away from the “old school of thought” that only one party can be the winner, and that starts with how our management thinks.

The industry needs new leaders of thought who happen to know how to lead the business as well. The promotion of inclusivity and dialogue between both parties will ensure that both know what is needed, what is on offer, what can be offered, and what still needs to be sourced regarding labour and contractor employment.

The role of government would be as a neutral party who can help both industry and the business forums by providing a legal and operational framework within which both function. It would do much to dispel fear within both camps.

Why do we keep seeing a trend around these business forums lately?

We have heard so much lately regarding collusion and corruption within the country which has no doubt involved many industries. The construction industry is no different; it just happens on a smaller scale and on the ground.

There isn’t any fair or equitable standard by which most non-specialist subcontractors are appointed on projects, and this leaves itself open to “choice by personal choice.” If I can make friends with the people on the ground and I agree and show my propensity to “scratch their backs,” I am sure to be handed a contract, and they may even go as far as removing other subcontractors so that I enjoy more benefit from the project.

So the continuing involvement of forums stems from internal collusion by project professionals who although earning salaries cannot resist the temptation of extra illicit funds.

Also, business forums have been used as a revenge tactic by certain subcontractors who have been removed from projects due to inferior workmanship. They, however, mislead the members and get them to act on their behalf to scare away current subcontractors or to settle scores with the main contractor.

The main base aim of any forum is to ensure equity and fairness and that no able-bodied man/woman sees their child or any family member go to sleep with air as their last meal. 

It is a very pressing issue, and it is negative for the industry as a whole. However, it is up to the main contractors to get the ball moving to find a mutually beneficial way to overcome this hurdle since they are the stakeholder who loses the most.



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