As 1st July approached and talk was centered around offices and businesses reopening, things in Melbourne were pretty much the same as the rest of Australian for Interior Plantscapers.
Many clients had cancelled, some had shut us out of their offices, plant losses in cold and dark offices had begun to mount and tending plants in ghost like offices that we could still access had become the norm. BUT the talk was positive and we had just replaced all of the plants in two big jobs, ready for the staff to return.
Then rumors started to swirl around as Melbourne cases increased – would we go to Stage 3 lockdown or worse? Surely things wouldn’t get as bad as the dreaded New Zealand Lockdown our colleagues had suffered through. Stage 3 lockdown was announced and soon after Melbourne entered Stage 4 lockdown, predicted to last for 8 weeks.
Melbournians had already dealt with compulsory face masks and work from home if you can, now virtually everyone would have to work from home, there was a limit on travelling no more than 5 km from your home, no visitors, shopping for food only and exercise were restricted to the 5 km limit, once per day for one person per household for one hour and a night time curfew was instigated from 8pm to 5am.
In addition, for those few able to work, permitted industries and essential services, a Permitted Worker Permit scheme was set up. Employers issued these permits to staff and faced a business fine of $99,132 for issuing a permit in breach of the scheme rules.
Whilst the people of Melbourne understood the need to stop the escalating spread of the virus and importantly the rising death toll, the severity of Stage 4 meant that many sites we had been able to access were now fully closed. Further we needed to urgently know if we could still work as a permitted industry. The Interior Plantscape Association and in particular Elaine Tunn came to our rescue, dealing with the Victorian Authorities and presenting a unified industry case to get the answer – yes we were a permitted industry !
Now knowing we could work we had to meet all of the Stage Government requirements plus explain and plead our case to building managers who had shut entire buildings and clients who themselves were not allowed to visit their offices. The challenges were great but client good will and cooperation plus discussions and information sharing with other interior plantscaspers really helped.
At the time of writing, Melbourne is only just beginning to reduce Stage 4 lockdown measures after 10 weeks, with another 5 to 6 weeks of gradual opening up ahead of us.
As many plants as possible have been saved and deeper friendships formed with other interior plantscaping businesses with unprecedented good will and help between members of the industry.
The planning and logistic issues to stay in business would make for another article but the take home message for me has been strength in numbers and cooperation to overcome the challenges.
Working together and having a strong industry association to unite and advocate will see us recover, it will take time but in Melbourne at least the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t seem to be a train anymore.
Corporate Plants, Victoria