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Uwe Putlitz: guiding building practitioners

By Ntsako Khosa
Be calm yet firm about having signed agreements and sticking to them, says CEO of Joint Building Contracts Committee (JBCC), Uwe Putlitz.

The JBCC has served the southern African building industry since the mid-1980s under that name representing the construction industry whose members volunteer their services and knowledge to draft building contracts with an equitable distribution of contractual risk.

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Uwe Putlitz from JBCC.
Image credit: BCC


Having been with the company for just over eight years, he administers and coordinates activities of the JBCC not only as a not-for-profit company but as a going concern. This includes liaising with organs of state and participating in a variety of annual and other industry events countywide.

“JBCC agreements lead the field because the agreements are written more concisely and in a manner, that is easily understood by users, thereby avoiding disputes,” he explains.

Adaptation to change is what fascinates Putlitz about the industry. “It has constantly changed to meet climatic and occupational requirements as mankind has developed new technologies including the industrial revolution and now the digital revolution,” he says.

The industry has changed away from a craft-oriented builder whose staff carried out the bulk of the work to one where more work is done by specialist subcontractors often using sophisticated manufacturing and installation techniques – generally completing work faster than only 50 years ago. “The need for speed and utilisation of outside resources pose new challenges for the building contractor,” he says.

Training and retaining qualified staff is not easy in an uncertain economy where retrenchments at the end of a project are not infrequent as there is not a steady workflow – largely due to political uncertainty, both locally and internationally.

With many roofing projects handled by sub-contractors, Putlitz says that they face the challenge of finding a regular flow of work, “and then to get paid in full, and on time. Without the skill of subcontractors, the industry will be hard pressed to perform – they deserve to be treated as an integral member of the construction team. Sadly, that often does not happen,” he states.

Timeous payment in the industry remains problematic as many owners or employers do not honour regular payment commitments in full by the due date causing a ripple effect where subcontractors and suppliers are not paid leading to insolvency and unemployment. The Construction Industry Development Board (cidb) seeks to manage this problem by introducing best practice guidelines to eliminate ‘pay when paid’ practices in the industry. JBCC agreements embody such criteria already – provided one party does not unilaterally cross out these provisions in the agreements and the other party reluctantly must accept the amendments or face a scenario of no work at all. This aspect also forms part of the favourite part of his job, being able to guide building practitioners and seeing the successful implementation of appropriate procedures. “I also enjoy teaching at university level,” he adds.

Adaptation to change is what fascinates Putlitz about the industry.

As a qualified and practising architect, he has always had an interest in the systems that make the whole work better – from the inception of a project right through the successful operation in a responsible and sustainable manner.

“Consequently, I qualified as a project manager to implement this thinking. Building contracts form part of this process: as a binding legal agreement between the parties, as well a tool to manage the building process – and more importantly, if correctly used, these contracts represent a powerful dispute avoidance discipline,” he says. He has been involved as a team member on several commercial, industrial and health care projects. “I was also involved with the Gautrain Hatfield Station project,” he says.

He believes in JBBC agreements and says that they have a potential to be the preferred standard form of contract throughout the entire African continent. “I still would like to see our agreements being used throughout the continent,” he concludes.


 

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