Challenges for the local construction industry
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - June 27, 2019 - 12:00am

Too often, ordinary consumers are unaware of the existence of product standards for building materials. It’s amusing – and alarming at the same time – to hear people bemoaning how the reinforcing steel bars (rebars) or galvanized steel sheets they just bought compare to those they purchased one or two decades ago, have become “thinner.”

What they fail to realize is the fact that rebars may be substandard and therefore, not safe for use especially for load-bearing structures. Buyer may have been gypped in paying for inferior products that normally should have been cheaper.

In the past few months, the Department of Trade and Industry has been conducting inspection raids on selected hardware stores, many operate on single proprietorship business permits that have become neighborhood go-tos for household construction projects.

While majority of the stores have been found compliant, i.e., selling on-spec construction materials that carry proper product standard markings and are covered by the necessary documentation, there are a few that are non-compliant.

According to the DTI’s Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau, inspections during the first four months of 2019 revealed irregularities in construction materials such as steel bars, unplasticized polyvinyl chloride (uPVC) pipes, equal-leg angle bars, GI wires, and electrical cords.

The initiative’s coverage is now being systematically widened to other regions of the country with the cooperation of local government units, as well as representatives of different construction material manufacturing associations.

Not cement

Ironically, the false alarm that the local cement industry triggered in 2016 over supposedly substandard cement that was illegally brought into the country from Vietnam was what spurred the DTI to initiate inspection raids on suspected hardware outlets.

As it turned out, there was indeed cement coming in from Vietnam competing with locally produced cement  – except that the imported cement were all legally brought in and were all within internationally acceptable production standards.

Because of a production glut in Vietnam, their manufacturers were exporting cement at very low prices, often admittedly at below manufacturing costs, to ASEAN countries where duties were down to zero.

On the other hand, with the growth in construction projects in the Philippines, the cheaper cement from Vietnam was a welcome option for many local builders, although a detriment to local cement manufacturers who saw their bottom lines severely affected by 2017.

Last year, the DTI instituted temporary tariff measures against cement importation to protect the local cement industry pending the results of a formal investigation by the Tariff Commission, which could possibly make the imposed tariff a more permanent duty.

It’s steel

While the DTI found no basis against earlier complaints by local cement makers, irregularities in steel products sold in some hardware stores surfaced. Apparently, the threat comes from small “backyard” steel product makers.

Steel products, the most popular in the market being rebars, are covered by the Philippine National Standard specifications. These are specifically formulated for local use by the Bureau of Product Standards with the help of the local steel industry, the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines, and the Philippine Construction Association.

Peculiar seismic conditions in our country, as well as the requirements of key stakeholders, have dictated some important distinctions to the international standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

The problem with substandard steel is that its qualities are not always visible with just simple inspections. Manufacturers are required to stamp their logos on manufactured rebars, but this can be faked in small foundries that purposely manufacture substandard rebars.

Big threat

Inferior rebars, as well as other steel products, when used in construction projects can be very dangerous given the prevalence of strong typhoons and severe flooding, and even increased intensity and frequency of earthquakes in the country.

Going after hardware store owners that sell counterfeited and substandard rebars is only the first step. What must be stopped are the foundries that covertly manufacture inferior steel products and pass these off to retailers as standard runs.

Consumers must be protected from the dangers of having to buy not just inferior steel products, but even substandard electrical pipes and cords that increase the risk of faulty electrical wiring-induced fires. Stricter monitoring of imported construction materials should, likewise, be enforced.

One rule of thumb for consumers to protect themselves is to be wary of construction products that are sold at a cheaper price compared to other brands. The chances of “shortcuts” are greater in such cases.

The DTI should pursue in earnest its plan to accredit all hardware stores in the country to guide consumers on where they can purchase construction materials that are always within the right specifications.

Trusting experts

Another area that needs improvement is the accreditation of tradesmen in the construction industry. There are too many wanna-be construction supervisors, masons, plumbers, electricians, and even carpenters offering services, but do not have the proper qualifications.

It’s high time for the government and the construction industry to professionalize manpower complementation in building projects, especially now that there are a lot of jobs being offered.

Ladderized vocational technology school learning and on-the-job work hours should complement each other and ensure that construction workers get the proper exposure and recognition through higher skills certification, and more importantly, better pay.

This will not only help improve work standards in the local construction industry, but also provide better opportunities for our tradesmen to seek job opportunities abroad where remuneration can be higher.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

LOCAL CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY
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