VIC construction industry shuts down for two weeks after violent protests

The Victorian Government has shut down all construction sites in Melbourne and lockdown-affected regions for two weeks following violent anti-vaccine mandate protests.

All construction projects in metropolitan Melbourne, City of Ballarat, City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire will be closed, with a strictly limited exemption for workers to attend the sites to respond to an emergency or perform urgent and essential work to protect health and safety.

An amnesty will be put in place so that a limited number of workers can attend construction sites in order to shut them down safely.

All government construction projects in metropolitan Melbourne and relevant local government areas will be closed, with no new work to be completed – other than work required to make the site safe and secure.

More than 500 protesters gathered outside the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) office on Monday 20 September, throwing bottles and crates at officials and prompting police to use rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd. 

The two-week shutdown was announced just hours later and came into effect from 11.59pm that same day.

Protests erupted again on Tuesday 21 September, beginning in Melbourne’s city centre before bringing traffic to a standstill on the West Gate Freeway.

Participants rallied against new COVID-19 regulations for the industry which came into effect the previous week in an effort to slow transmission in worksites.

These restrictions included the closure of break rooms, which prompted some workers to protest by setting up chairs and tables to have their lunch breaks in the middle of Melbourne main roads.

The Victorian Government implemented a mandate for all construction workers to have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before September 23. A priority vaccine blitz opened up longer walk-in hours for construction workers at specified vaccine sites.

These measures were taken due to recent outbreaks linked to construction, with concern about case numbers and transmission risk in the sector. 

As a mobile workforce, workers are permitted to travel longer distances to work than other permitted workers, leading to a larger geographic spread of construction COVID-19 cases.

Victorian Minister for Industrial Relations, Tim Pallas, said, “We’ve been clear: if you don’t follow the rules, we won’t hesitate to take action – we have seen widespread non-compliance across the industry and that’s why we’re taking necessary steps to protect every single Victorian.

“We put the industry on notice just a week ago, we have seen appalling behaviour on site and on our streets, and now we’re acting decisively and without hesitation.”

The immediate shutdown action aims to reduce movement, minimise transmission and allow for the entire industry to appropriately adapt to the Chief Health Officer Directions, including increasing vaccination rates.

Victorian Minister for Health, Martin Foley, said, “The health and safety of every Victorian is our number one priority. That goes for construction workers, too – who can get priority access for a vaccine appointment.”

All sites will be required to demonstrate compliance with Chief Health Officer Directions prior to reopening – including the requirement for workers to show evidence to their employer of having had one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before they return to site on 5 October. 

The vaccine priority blitz will continue until Sunday 26 September, including walk-up appointments (without a booking) available at key sites. For more information about priority vaccine access, visit https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/vaccine.

A COVID-19 disaster payment is available to help workers unable to earn income due to public health orders, with more info available at https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/covid-19-disaster-payment.

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