State shuts down industry “immediately” as anti-vaxxers run riot

Bottles, boxes thrown at union state secretary, officials

State shuts down industry “immediately” as anti-vaxxers run riot

The Victorian government has shut down the construction industry for two weeks in the wake of violent protests against vaccine mandates outside a union headquarters.

Following talks with state government officials, the Master Builders Victoria told employee members late Monday night that all construction sites in locked-down metropolitan and regional areas would be shut down starting Tuesday, according to a report by The Australian Financial Review.

The shutdown comes after up to 500 anti-vaccination protestors attacked the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union’s (CFMEU) Victoria branch in Carlton. The protestors abused state secretary John Sekta, with some throwing bottles and crates at his officials and smashing the union headquarters’ front doors, AFR reported.

“The Victorian government has advised us that, as they are continuing to see an increase in COVID-19 transmissions in the building and construction industry, combined with the riots in Melbourne today, all building and construction industry worksites in Metropolitan Melbourne, Geelong, Surf Coast, Ballarat and the Mitchell Shire must close for a two-week period from 11:59pm tonight,” Master Builders said. “Whilst the period is set for two weeks, the restrictions will only be in force [for as long as] each of those local government areas are in restriction for.”

Treasurer Tim Pallas said in a statement that recent COVID-19 outbreaks had been linked to construction, and that there were concerns with the industry’s compliance with public health directives, AFR reported.

“The immediate shutdown action is being taken to reduce movement, minimise transmission and allow for the entire industry to appropriately adapt to the chief health officer directions, including increasing vaccination rates,” Pallas said.

He said that workers must have had at least one dose of vaccine before they return to site on Oct. 5.

Victorian building unions, including the CFMEU, Electrical Trades Union, manufacturing workers union and plumbers’ union, released a joint statement Monday blasting the Andrews government and the chief health officer for what they called a “heavy-handed” vaccine mandate that drove workers toward the anti-vax movement, AFR reported.

“This unrealistic and blunt approach taken by the Government and the Health Department has ultimately undermined the vaccination rollout, which we strongly indicated it would, and we ask them to reconsider and call on the public health team to join us in meaningful discussions to get everybody through these challenging times,” the statement said.

Earlier on Monday, riot police had used rubber bullets to break up a crowd of protestors that had thrown things at the CFMEU’s Victoria offices, AFR reported. Union officials trapped inside the building used fire hoses and extinguishers to deter protestors.

The union released a statement saying it would not be intimidated by “outside extremists,” who it accused of manipulating union members, AFR reported.

“This crowd was heavily infiltrated by neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremist groups and it is clear that a minority of those who participated were actual union members,” the union said. “We thank the officials, delegates, and rank-and-file members of the union who came to protect their office and their officials, and note that a number of people received minor injuries from acts of violence including the throwing of bottles.”

Video posted on social media showed Setka trying in vain to calm the mostly maskless crowd. However, his mere appearance elicited boos from the protestors, AFR reported.

“We’re not the enemy. I don’t know what you heard,” Setka said. “I have never ever said I support mandatory vaccination. Never ever.”

The state government has restricted construction sites to 25% capacity and will require workers to be vaccinated from Friday, due to concerns about COVID-19 transmission on sites, AFR reported. The cap will be lifted to 50% once Victoria surpasses 70% vaccination.

The CFMEU has supported the vaccination of workers. However, the union is opposed to mandatory vaccination as a condition to work. Setka told the protestors that the union had not capped the sector’s capacity at 25% and “I did not mandate vaccinations.”

However, the protestors hurled abuse at the union leader, calling him “gutless” and a “snake.” One protestor asked him if workers picketed sites that mandated vaccines, “who’s going to be the scabs? CFMEU members across the picket line or us? Who is it?”

Setka denied that any member of the union was a scab, AFR reported. He insisted the CFMEU had fought to keep the industry open.

However, one protestor with a megaphone told the crowd that “we are staring down the barrel of communism.”

“This is all about the vaccines,” the protestor said. “No f---ing c--- is going to put a vaccine inside me.”

When Setka and other union officials headed back into the building, protestors began hurling bottles and plastic crates at them, AFR reported.

Premier Daniel Andrews called the protest an “illegal gathering” and said he did not accept that a substantial portion of the construction industry was anti-vaccination, AFR reported.

“You know, none of those decisions are made lightly about the rules that apply on a building site,” Andrews said. “A good deal of work goes into that, and I’d ask people to follow those rules. And frankly, if protests worked against the virus then we’d be in a very different position, wouldn’t we?”

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