The Victorian government has announced a two-week shutdown of the construction industry after a protest against mandatory vaccines for workers in the sector became violent
The Guardian newspaper says the closure across metropolitan Melbourne, Geelong, the Surf Coast, Ballarat and Mitchell Shire was decided on Monday night after the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) building was damaged and riot police deployed in chaotic scenes in central Melbourne.
The Master Builders Association of Victoria informed members of the development in a Facebook post, saying the government was concerned about “an increase in Covid-19 transmissions in the building and construction industry, combined with the riots in the central district.
The CFMEU says the protest was overtaken by “neo-Nazis and right wing extremists”, rather than union members.
Victoria police say several people were arrested as the crowd “grew increasingly hostile” during the protest that began before 9am on Monday.
Hundreds of construction workers wearing hi-vis, and their supporters, stormed the building, protesting against new mandatory vaccination rules for the building industry.
The Victorian branch of the union released a statement, saying it has always supported freedom of choice regarding vaccination.
“We are not going to be intimidated by outside extremists attempting to intimidate the union, by spreading misinformation and lies about the union’s position,” the statement says.
“The CFMEU will always advocate for safety, jobs, and freedom of choice.”
CFMEU national construction secretary released a statement on Monday night accusing the crowd of being “infiltrated by neo-Nazis and other right wing extremist groups”.
“It is clear that a minority of those who participated were actual union members,” he says.
Chanting “fuck the jab”, those protesting are against having to show proof of their vaccination to be allowed back on building sites, with some saying they would rather the entire construction industry be shut down.
It is unclear whether all of those protesting are construction workers, after a message on the Melbourne Freedom Rally Telegram group encouraged anti-lockdown protesters to join them.
Premier Daniel Andrews says the protests were “not smart, they are not safe”.
“Protests don’t work. Getting vaccinated works, following the rules works. That’s how you stay open, that’s how you get open,” Andrews says.
Monday’s rally comes after construction workers set up plastic chairs and tables in the middle of streets across Melbourne on Friday, protesting against lockdown restrictions that included shutting down tea rooms for morning breaks.