A total of 18 companies in the WBHO Australia group, including construction giant Probuild, have been placed in administration.

Deloitte has been appointed as a trustee by WBHO Australia (WBHOA), which directly employs around 750 people and has thousands of other contractors working on its projects.

The company has annual revenues of $1.4 billion and has 18 major commercial and public projects at various stages of development in Victoria (13), New South Wales (3), Queensland (1) and Australia. Western Australia (1).

Although originally established in Western Australia in 1987, WBHOA is now based in Melbourne, with offices in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

The Australian company is owned by South African construction giant Wilson Bayly Holmes-Ovcon Limited (WBHO), and it was a decision by the parent company to end financial support for its Australian operations that led to financial administration .

“WBHO has determined that effective February 22, 2022, the company through WBHOC will no longer provide financial assistance to WBHOA,” the South African company told investors.

“This led the WBHOA Board of Directors to begin with a request for WBHOA administration.”

The South African parent company said it had injected more than 2 billion rand ($183 million) into its Australian subsidiary over the past four years, in addition to providing it with loan guarantees.

Work came to a halt at Probuild’s site at A’Beckett St in central Melbourne after the company entered administration.(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)

COVID delays blamed for company’s demise

He blamed Australia’s strict COVID-19 restrictions as a major factor in the WBHOA’s unprofitability.

“The company’s project delivery capability is of particular concern, which has been negatively impacted by unforeseen COVID-19 restrictions, the contracting environment and the increased difficulty in lifting warranty facilities needed to secure new work.” , said the parent company.

In particular, the parent company blamed COVID-19-related restrictions and lockdowns for some costly project delays.

“Australian companies were unable to complete projects on time and were unable to recover variation and delay claims, resulting in significant losses during the financial period to to date and the need for additional funding and balance sheet support from the WBHOC,” he added. .

He also said his earlier efforts to sell the business had been frustrated by regulators.

“In 2020, the company entered into negotiations with a third party to sell the Probuild business. This transaction progressed to terms agreed in December 2020, but Australian Foreign Investment Review Board approval was not forthcoming. achieved,” the WBHO said.

“Following this, WBHO implemented its strategy of downsizing the business and considered other sale options, which proved unsuccessful due to potential acquirers’ concerns about the impact of the regulatory approach to COVID.

The South African company’s share price plunged more than 27% yesterday on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange after its announcement.

Administrators are looking for buyers

Deloitte’s turnaround and restructuring chief, Sal Algeri, said he and his fellow directors hoped to find a buyer, or buyers, for the companies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created difficult business conditions for many companies, and for WBHOA, which has also been impacted by some loss-making projects,” he noted in a statement.

“We will also begin a sale and recapitalization process, to secure a new owner for the businesses.”

A Deloitte spokesperson told the ABC that the affected yards are under the direction of WBHO Australia employees.

“Some work is continuing with administrators focusing on getting all sites back to full activity as soon as possible,” he added.

Construction crisis?

Despite a construction boom since the pandemic, success is not guaranteed for even the biggest of builders.

The Grocon Group constructed some of Australia’s tallest buildings before its bankruptcy in 2020, blaming a single project for sinking the decades-old business.

New figures from credit reporting agency CreditorWatch show that construction is the sector with the highest rate of arrears, with 12.4% of businesses more than 60 days behind on their payments.

The agency said payment arrears are one of the first indicators that a business is facing financial difficulties.

With business-related lawsuits up nearly 60% last month, he warned late payments are an early sign for suppliers that their debtors may not pay.

“The construction industry has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic,” noted CreditorWatch CEO Patrick Coghlan.

“This industry has unique payment structures that contribute to a high rate of arrears.”

Oliver Judd, CEO of the National Electrical and Communications Association, which represents electrical contractors, said many of its members would be left out.

“A virus or recession will not be the root cause of an industry that sees big business crumble year after year, regardless of the state of the economy,” he said in a statement.

“Corporate directors and executives of prominent corporations are sailing into the sunset, largely financially and legally unscathed, leaving small, often family-run businesses behind.

“The collapse of a principal then leaves behind a trail of destruction.

The association calls for a national scheme to protect monies owed to contractors for work carried out on major projects.