An anti-vax protest hit Melbourne union offices following a new vaccine mandate for construction sites. Officials blame ‘outside extremists’.

An anti-vax protest hit Melbourne union offices following a new vaccine mandate for construction sites. Officials blame ‘outside extremists’.
Wayne Taylor/Getty Images
  • Protesters rallied around the Melbourne offices of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy union on Monday, decrying new rules requiring construction workers to have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
  • Union officials suggested the rowdy demonstration was driven by “outside extremists”.
  • The protest came one day after the state revealed its reopening roadmap.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Victorian construction workers staged a furious protest outside union offices on Monday, opposing the state’s worksite vaccine mandate and other public health measures designed to constrain the latest COVID-19 outbreak.

Several hundred people demonstrated outside the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) Melbourne office, hurling chants and insults at union leaders over their perceived involvement with the new crackdown.

The protest stemmed from Premier Daniel Andrews’ Thursday announcement that all Victorian construction workers must have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before midnight on Thursday, 23 September to continue working.

Worksite tea rooms have also been closed over fears of workplace transmission, with the state government concerned some construction sites have become a “vector” for transmission in regional areas.

Worksite capacity was already capped at 25 per cent of usual occupancy.

Monday’s protest targeted CFMEU secretary John Setka, who has opposed compulsory vaccination schemes while also dismissing vaccine misinformation rippling through some construction worker circles.

Footage posted to social media shows Setka attempting to calm the crowd by asking, “So you want us to shut the whole building industry down?”

“Shut it down,” the crowd responded. Other chants included profanities hurled against Andrews and the vaccine itself.

In a statement obtained by the Herald Sun, a CFMEU spokesperson said bad actors and external influencers were among the fray.

“We are not going to be intimidated by outside extremists who are manipulating members and attempting to intimidate the union, and spreading misinformation and lies about the union’s position,” they said.

The protest was a flashpoint for an industry striving to increase vaccination rates among its workforce.

Developers including Multiplex, Built, and ADCO have partnered with Master Builders Victoria on the ‘Get The Jab Done’ campaign, encouraging tradespeople to book an appointment or speak with their GP.

Businesses welcome reopening plan but question the details

Monday’s protest came one day after Andrews revealed the state’s plan to step away from lockdowns and wind back restrictions as vaccination rates increase.

Pubs, clubs, and entertainment venues will be permitted to reopen in metropolitan Melbourne once a 70 per cent vaccination rate is achieved. The roadmap suggests this will occur on 26 October.

All retail, hairdressing, beauty, and personal care businesses will reopen when the vaccination rate hits 80 percent, forecast for 5 November. At the same time, occupancy limits for hospitality venues will increase.

The Victorian Tourism Industry Council hailed the plan as a “light at the end of the tunnel”, and CEO Felicia Mariani described the plan as a “solid commitment to opening up the state”.

Mariani said clarity around COVID-19 vaccination mandates and continued funding for hard-hit operators remain essential.

“We need to see an acknowledgement of the vital role that this industry plays in supporting Victoria’s economic fortunes and promoting its profile around the world,” she said.

The Australian Retailers Association welcomed the roadmap, but said it was concerning that retail venues will only open when vaccination rates hit 80% — which the state government estimates will occur around 5 November.

“We appreciate the health and safety of the community needs to come first, but we can’t hide our concern for vulnerable retailers who will have been continuously closed for 13 weeks in total – which will sadly be unsustainable for some,” said CEO Paul Zahra.

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry issued a harsher view, questioning why the state’s plan does not more closely mirror that of New South Wales.

“Business has been in crisis for the last 20 months,” chief executive Paul Guerra said.

“Today’s announcement further intensifies that crisis and many businesses will not make it through.”