News CFMEU headquarters named as virus exposure site after protests

CFMEU headquarters named as virus exposure site after protests

Police attended the protest outside the CFMEU building in riot gear. Photo: AAP
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The Victorian headquarters of the CFMEU has been listed as a COVID-19 exposure site, a week after it was the scene of violent anti-vaccination protests.

CFMEU Victoria and Tasmania president Robert Graauwmans is among four positive cases linked to the office, according to multiple reports.

The construction union’s state secretary John Setka confirmed the Elizabeth Street building, on the fringes of Melbourne’s CBD, was deemed a tier-one exposure site.

Staff and officials were forced into two-weeks isolation and are “deeply concerned” about the wellbeing of their families, the union said in a statement on Wednesday.

The CFMEU condemned protests as “reckless and irresponsible”, blaming the cluster on a demonstration held outside its head office on September 21.

It claimed infected people had attended the rally and transmitted the virus to staff.

“This outbreak caused by the disgusting behaviour of selfish and reckless people with no regard to the wellbeing of the thousands of construction workers or their families will not deter our commitment to getting construction back open and all our members back to work,” Mr Setka said.

The revelation comes a week after violent protests against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and other restrictions for the construction industry.

About 500 protesters threw bottles at Mr Setka and smashed the office door down.

The industry was shut down for at least two weeks by a public health order following the incident, amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus through worksites.

Mr Setka said the halt had been devastating for more than 300,000 Victorian workers and the union was working with the state government on a solution to reopening.

However, Victorian government authorities have refused to confirm the industry will be allowed to restart on October 5.

Acting chief health officer Ben Cowie said health teams needed to see an uptake in vaccines and extra measurers in workplaces, including ventilation and regular testing of employees. He said “positive” discussions between industry leaders and health authorities were continuing, with compliance a key issue.

Asked if the industry would reopen next Tuesday, Professor Cowie said he would not “commit” to a date.

“The epidemiology is what decides it. We want to do something unsafe. The roadmap is there and the national plan is there to get us to the sort of freedoms we crave in a safe way,” Professor Cowie said.

Another sticking point is the government-imposed ban on tradies travelling between Melbourne and regional Victoria for work.

“We need to protect regional Victoria as we continue to open,” he said.

“Ultimately, it will be a level playing field again and we will be reunited but we need to do it as safely as we can.”

Premier Daniel Andrews has also refused to confirm if the industry will restart next week.

“It is important that all of those in construction know and understand that these rules are very serious and there is no default ‘it just opens next week’,” he said on Monday.

For five days following the rally outside the union office, hundreds of protesters clashed with police and stormed Melbourne landmarks, including the West Gate Bridge and the Shrine of Remembrance.

The CFMEU has claimed while some construction workers were involved, the demonstrations were hijacked by “neo-Nazi’s and right-wing extremists” dressed in high-visibility clothing.

-with AAP