The Victorian construction union has blamed the violent protests at its Melbourne headquarters last week for a Covid-19 outbreak which has seen four officials test positive to the virus and forced the union’s secretary, John Setka, into isolation.
The CFMEU’s headquarters was declared a tier-one exposure site by the Victorian government on Wednesday after a number of positive cases among union staff.
The union was quick to blame the series of anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine protests held outside the union office last week, releasing a statement pointing to “reckless and irresponsible behaviour of protestors” for the outbreak.
“Last week’s protests put union officials and police at risk with infected demonstrators showing no regard for the wellbeing of people affected by their actions,” the union said in a statement.
“Their reckless behaviour has resulted in transmission to union staff and officials who were not involved in the protest. To date, four positive cases have been recorded.”
The outbreak has prompted fears of further cases among union officials, and staff have been urged to get tested. The union confirmed the designation of the headquarters as a tier-one exposure site had forced staff including Setka into isolation.
One of the protestors, a man in his 30s, had been hospitalised following the protests, and Victoria’s Covid response commander Jeroen Weimar has previously said he “would have been at that protest during his infectious period”.
The Victorian government announced a two-week shutdown of the state construction industry last Tuesday following the protests and what it said was an escalating case load within the industry.
It remains unclear whether that ban will be lifted by next week, and on Wednesday the acting chief health officer, Prof Ben Cowie, said it would depend on the outcome of negotiations between the government and industry over Covid-safety measures.
On Wednesday, Setka again lashed the government for the shutdown, which he said was done with “a lack of prior consultation” from the Victorian chief health officer.
“Construction workers not being able to work and earn an income to put food on the table and pay mortgages puts enormous stress on families,” he said.
It comes as Victoria police released a statement revealing that an acting sergeant from a specialist support unit has been suspended after footage emerged of an officer crash-tackling a man at Flinders St station on the fourth day of the protests.
Victoria police launched an internal investigation after the video was widely circulated. In a statement, a spokesperson said that investigations were continuing into the incident.