Construction workers have blocked streets across Melbourne in a sit-down protest against the Victorian government’s toughened virus rules for their industry.
Dozens of workers blocked Lonsdale Street, in the Melbourne CBD, on Friday morning, setting up plastic chairs and tables while they took a smoke break.
The smoko protest blocked traffic and forced the cancellation of trams on nearby Spencer Street.
It came at the same time as similar protests in inner-suburban Brunswick, Coburg, Kew, Parkville and Richmond.
The roads were cleared within the hour.
The morning protests came as Victoria reported another 510 local COVID cases and one fatality. She was a woman in her 50s, and takes the toll from the state’s current outbreak to nine.
Friday’s update means Victoria has 4697 active virus infections.
But there is anger among construction workers after the state government imposed tough restrictions on the industry, with 13 per cent of the active cases linked to transmission at construction sites.
From 11.59pm on Friday, tea rooms at construction sites must shut and food and drink can no longer be consumed indoors. Workers will no longer be able to travel between Melbourne and the regions.
All construction workers will be required to show their employer evidence that they’ve had a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, by 11.59pm on September 23.
Limited medical exemptions and proof-of-booking exceptions will apply, in keeping with the vaccine mandate for aged care workers.
Victorian state construction union secretary John Setka said the decision to close tea rooms was “appalling”, given it was made without consulting the CFMEU.
“It’s not really a protest,” he told 3AW radio on Friday.
“What they decided was if we can’t sit in the smoko shed, where do we have our break? So they’ve taken all the tables and chairs out into the fresh air.
“They’ve got nowhere else to have their smoko.”
The protest caused a number of interruptions for Melbourne’s Public Transport network, with some protestors occupying tram lines.
Yarra Trams issued an alert for passengers on Twitter.
But Victorian COVID commander Jeroen Weimar appealed to construction workers to appreciate that their industry had remained open while many others had been forced to shut down to deal with the worsening outbreak.
“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,” he said.
“I think we all need to be humble on this … If you can’t sit next to your mates having a sandwich, that doesn’t seem a huge burden to bear.
“The weather is getting better and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to partake in those activities (tea and lunch breaks) outside, preferably not on tram tracks.”
Earlier this week, the Victorian construction industry was warned it risked losing its authorised worker status amid the launch of an enforcement and vaccination blitz.
At the time, Mr Weimar described tea rooms as the “most dangerous place” to contract the virus.