22nd September, 2021
The Victorian Government’s decision to halt all construction work across metro-Melbourne and other LGAs currently in lockdown has sparked strong responses from peak industry bodies.
After violent protests against vaccine mandates for construction workers took place in Melbourne’s CBD earlier this week, the Andrews Government has responded by mandating a two-week total shutdown of all construction sites across all local government areas in Victoria that are currently in lockdown, including metropolitan Melbourne, City of Ballarat, City of Geelong, Mitchell Shire and Surf Coast Shire.
The protests saw the deployment of crowd control equipment and the arrest of several protestors outside the CFMEU headquarters in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD.
Treasurer and minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas attributed the shutdown to gross non-compliance and “appalling behaviour” by sections of the industry, The ABC reports.
“We’ve been clear: if you don’t follow the rules, we won’t hesitate to take action – we have seen widespread noncompliance across the industry and that’s why we’re taking necessary steps to protect every single Victorian,” Pallas said.
“We put the industry on notice just a week ago, we have seen appalling behaviour on site and on our streets, and now we’re acting decisively and without hesitation.”
In a press release published by the Victorian premier’s office, the immediate shutdown of all construction sites is described as a measure introduced to slow transmission rates down and allow for the industry to act on the directions of the Chief Health Officer, including increasing vaccination rates.
During the period, no new construction work is permitted to be taken on, and attendance to a construction site will be strictly limited to respond to an emergency, perform urgent and essential work to protect health and safety.
Additional leeway has been granted for a limited number of workers to attend construction sites to ensure that they have been closed down safely.
While the shutdown has been put in place as a two-week measure, construction will be allowed to resume in areas that move out of lockdown during the period.
Prior to reopening on 5 October, construction sites will be required to demonstrate total compliance with the directions of the Chief Health Officer, including all workers providing evidence that they have received (at least) one dose of the vaccine prior to attending the workplace.
The government has said that it will consult with industry over the coming days to come up with ways for construction companies to demonstrate compliance.
READ: Roadmap out of lockdown unveiled for key COVID-19 battlegrounds
The forced shutdown of the entire construction industry has been met with concern by a number of countries top industry bodies across the state.
Mell Greenall executive director of Growth and Relationships at the Master Builders Association of Victoria, expressed disappointment with the nature of the government’s response, saying that these measures will impact the jobs and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of construction workers across the entire state.
“While we appreciate why the government is taking this course of action, we are disappointed in the broad nature of the response,” Greenall told The Pulse.
“The construction industry has consistently done the right thing by complying with the directions of the Chief Health Officer without any hesitation.”
Greenall also called on the government not to take a “one size fits all” approach to its construction-industry related COVID-19 provisions, and to ensure that measures were tailored to the size of the company and the nature of work being done.
“Construction companies can range from massive organisations that employ thousands of workers, right down to boutique firms that build one house per year.
“We encourage the government to consult with industry to ensure that its provisions are appropriately designed to suit the broad spectrum of construction companies in the region.”
The ABC also reported that the Victorian Building Industry Group of Unions released a statement that referred to the government’s response as “unrealistic and blunt”, saying that it undermined the state’s broader vaccine rollout strategy.
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While the protests that took place in Melbourne’s CBD were held in response to construct industry specific vaccines mandates, Greenall was adamant that these gatherings did not reflect the views and stance of the Victorian construction industry at large.
“These actions were not a fair representation of our construction sector, and our understanding is that the groups protesting were comprised of people from outside the industry.”