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Plumbers Rolling In It As Cost Of Building Goes Through Roof

Sydney Morning Herald

Tuesday October 30, 2007

Jacob Saulwick

PLUMBING can be dirty work, and lucrative.

Chronic shortages of workers in key trades are driving up building and renovation costs, and the prices paid to plumbers, bricklayers, joiners and builders.

"We charge people $100 an hour, and I've been working for about 18 months. Other places I know charge much more," said Michael Punzet, who works for Ben's Plumbing in Bondi.

"And that's on weekdays. After that you've got a minimum $200 call-out at the weekend."

In Sydney, prices paid to tradespeople rose 7.2 per cent last year, more than three times the rate of inflation, figures released yesterday by the Housing Industry Association show.

Bricklaying costs rose the most, up 14 per cent on a year ago. Joinery costs rose about 8 per cent, and it is 7 per cent more expensive to employ a plasterer than it was last year. Builders enjoyed a 3.9 per cent price rise in the three months to September alone.

An apprentice carpenter, Milo Yeates, said there was "loads of work for carpenters". "I was offered a job on Wednesday that pays $35 an hour and I've not finished my qualifications yet."

The association's index shows prices rose sharply for trades in most capital cities. Sydneysiders pay the most for trades work outside Western Australia.

Mr Yeates said he and his friends often discussed heading west to cash in on the mining boom. "I've got a year to go on my apprenticeship, but I'm definitely thinking about doing it in two years."

According to the index's measure of trade availability, plumbers are the hardest to come by, despite a small improvement in the last three months.

But making the most of the trade shortages is not guaranteed. Despite earning at least $100 an hour for his boss, Mr Punzet said, he took home only $20 an hour.

"It is very hard for employers and companies to get decent plumbers," he said. "If you've got any brains you'll set up your own business. I'd do that as well, but I'm starting a medical degree next year."

© 2007 Sydney Morning Herald

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