Construction workers in Australia have protested this week in response to news they would be faced with a mandate to get vaccinated from COVID-19 if they want to continue working. Cases of coronavirus have been on the rise across Australia, particularly in the states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria that contain the country’s two largest cities and have the highest population density.
The mandate was issued in response to a lack of regulation following an estimated 13% of new cases linked to construction sites. Cases in Victoria have been reaching over 700 new cases a day, whilst things have been worse in New South Wales where there have been over 1,000 new cases reported daily. Vaccination uptake has been slow across the country, despite the government’s calls for everyone to get vaccinated. The latest protests are just the most recent in the resistance the government has faced in the vaccination roll out plan.
Union members of Australia’s largest union, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), have been linked to the instigation of the protests. The CFMEU has said it is against compulsory vaccinations for workers to be able to attend their jobs on construction sites. However, they do say they are in favour of members getting vaccinated on a voluntary basis.
Protestors were reported as walking through the streets shouting “Fuck the jab” and “everyday” amongst other inflammatory chants. Police have said the chaos from the resulting protests seem to have come from the involvement and “hijacking” of the marches from far-right and extremist groups looking to propel their own anti-vaxx, anti-mask and anti-lockdown politics. Many in the crowds who were wearing high-vis jackets – perhaps looking to blend in with the construction workers protests – have been seen on social media at the frontline in clashes with the police.