Vaccine protest in Melbourne takes a violent turn
September 20, 2021

The Victorian government plans to shut down much of the Australian construction industry for two-weeks after a protest against compulsory vaccines for workers in the sector turned violent.

On Monday, hundreds of construction workers and supporters wearing hi-visibility gear swarmed to protest outside of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) headquarters in Melbourne. This happened just days after other CFMEU-affiliated workers protested Covid-19 restrictions across the Commercial Business District by taking their lunches in the middle of the street.

Throughout the day, the protest became “increasingly hostile,” according to Victoria police.

The protest-turned-riot follows the Victorian government’s decision to undertake a four-week “compliance blitz” aimed at improving Covid-19 precautions at construction sites. This undertaking requires all construction workers to take at least one dose of a Coronavirus vaccine by September 23rd.

According to 7News, around 13 percent of Covid-19 cases in the country have been linked directly to construction sites. While some workers are extremely bothered by the mandate decision, Master Builders Victoria (MBV) has announced its support of the initiative.

2 weeks without construction

The violence outside of the CFMEU headquarters led to a riot police response, as well as an all-out construction sector closure.

Industrial Relations Minister Tim Pallas announced that, effective 11:59 p.m. Monday, construction is suspended for two-weeks in metropolitan Melbourne, Geelong, the Surf Coast, Ballarat and Mitchell Shire.

Pallas said in a statement on the protests, “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.”

The protest only devolved into a riot once the attendees were confronted by John Setka, the CFMEU Victorian construction branch secretary.

Somewhere between support and silent acceptance

Setka was met with anger by the protesters, some of whom hurled bottles and cursed at him as he stepped out to speak with them on the street. Setka told the workers, “Please calm down. Can you at least give me the respect to talk? We’re not the enemy, I don’t know what you have heard. I have never, ever said I support mandatory vaccination.”

These words did little to soothe the crowd though, as those in attendance smashed the glass door that Setka entered through right after he was done speaking.

In a sharp turn from reconciling with the crowd, CFMEU also released a statement calling the protestors out as disingenuous. The statement accuses the crowd of largely being “infiltrated by neo-nazis and other right-wing extremists.”

While the leaders of the Victorian government and the trade unions have both expressed support for people’s freedom of choice when it comes to the vaccine, it appears that won’t stop a mandate from moving forward.

The CEO of MBV, Rebecca Casson, released a series of statements regarding their support for the mandates.

“To even get back to 50 per cent capacity on building sites, 90 per cent of our workforce must have had one jab by 23 September 2021. This is an extremely high measure, which can only realistically be achieved through mandatory vaccination.” Casson said.

Noting the MBV’s talks with the Victorian government about a vaccine mandate, Casson justified those discussions by claiming, “because our industry cannot survive on a pilot light forever.”

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