Coronavirus crisis: Melbourne tradies protest tea room closures at construction sites
Health authorities have lashed a bizarre protest by Melbourne’s tradies as they took to the city’s streets to rally against new Covid rules imposed on the industry.
Construction workers moved tables and chairs onto roads across the CBD on Friday morning after the state government closed tea rooms on worksites.
Tradies will also need to have had their first dose of the vaccine by next Thursday to be allowed to continue working.
Premier Daniel Andrews enforced the new restrictions due to the increasing risk of Covid-19 transmission within the construction industry.
But the industry’s employees hit back on Friday with workers taking their smoko and lunch break to the street to protest against the new rules.
Workers set up an outdoor break room at the intersection of A’Beckett and Elizabeth streets in Melbourne’s CBD, blocking cars and holding up traffic.
Similar protests were also held outside construction sites in Spencer St and in Richmond.
By midday a group of tradies were on the move, lugging their chairs into the middle of the King and Lonsdale street intersection and sitting down for another break.
The construction union, the CFMEU, is behind Friday morning’s protest action and claims the closure of tea rooms had “forced” workers into the streets to eat and drink.
Police moved in to surround some protesting groups.
Covid-19 commander Jeroen Weimar wasn’t too impressed with the action taken by tradies across the city.
He has warned tea rooms were one of the “most dangerous” spots for the spread of the virus as case numbers continue to rise among construction workers.
Asked whether any of the protesting tradies would be fined, Mr Weimar said he did not know.
“If there’s an officer in the vicinity, they may choose to do so,” he said.
Mr Weimar said a number of cases in the latest outbreak, including at construction sites, were being transmitted in tea rooms.
“We’ve seen a number of examples, and I appreciate people think it’s amusing, but when you have people across the construction industry and they’re in a small cabin or hut enjoying food and drink together, that’s a significant risk of transmission,” he said.
“It’s a self-evident risk we need to manage. The weather is getting better and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to partake in those activities outside, preferably not on tram tracks.
“I’d appeal to the industry and to the employees, so many sectors, so many employees would love to be at work.
“So many of us would love to be working almost normally and actually, people are bending over backwards to keep the construction industry going and keep important sites going for important reasons.
“Please don’t. I think we all need to be humble on this and recognise the privilege that those of us who are still able to work can get.
“If you can’t sit next to your mates having a sandwich, that doesn’t seem a huge burden to bear.”
But Victoria’s construction union, the CFMEU, claimed the new measure to close “smoko sheds” would do nothing to prevent the spread of the virus and posed further health and safety issues for workers.
The union claimed the rule had “forced” thousands of workers to relocate their tables and chairs to the streets.
They said the large scale construction industry had continually tried to consult with the Andrews government on restrictions as well as investing millions in Covid health and safety measures.
“Hard working construction workers who have fought so hard to keep everyone safe, and are then told by the chief health officer after dirty, hard, dangerous work, they cant even sit down to have a cup of coffee,” CFMEU secretary John Setka said.
“The CHO can’t just choose when they want to consult, next time it would be good if we could all work together to get this right.”
The Premier announced on Thursday that tea rooms would be closed at construction sites and food or drink cannot be consumed indoors at work.
Mr Andrews said worker shift bubbles must be practised and all sites will require a CovidSafe marshal.
Construction employees are now unable cross the metropolitan-regional boundary for work and will need to have their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination by 11.59pm on September 23 to be able to continue working during the lockdown.
“Construction workers have a week to get, if they’ve not already got a first dose, to go and get a first dose of any of the vaccines,” Mr Andrews said.
“We have seen too many cases in construction.”
Originally published as Melbourne tradies protest virus tea room closures at construction sites
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails