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AU Projects Shutdown Over Vaccine Protests

Monday, September 27, 2021

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Project sites were shut down last week after construction workers engaged in violent protests regarding Australia’s Victorian Government announcement to mandate COVID-19 vaccines.

The announcement to require mandatory vaccination for construction workers arrived amid the country’s uptick in delta variant cases. The new mandate required that construction workers across Victoria show evidence to their employers that they have had the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 23.

“Public health officials have become increasingly concerned about COVID-19 transmission and exposure in construction settings,” wrote the Victorian Building Authority on Sept. 17. “Construction workers are often highly mobile and the risk of spreading coronavirus in these settings as evidenced by recent outbreaks is concerning.”

Protests & Shutdowns

Starting earlier this month, construction union workers began to make their oppositions of the mandates known by taking their lunchbreaks in central Melbourne intersections. The blocking of roads and holding of traffic was just the first response to the government’s announcement and recent shutdown of the industry’s tearooms.

By last Monday (Sept. 20), protests were reported to take a more violent turn, as workers gathered outside of the headquarters of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union. At one point, workers attempted to storm the building, which resulted in some building damage, several arrests and injuries.

In wake of the protests, the union issued a statement condemning the violence “in the strongest possible terms,” and noted that it believed many of the protesters were not actually construction workers, but members of neo-Nazi and other right-wing extremist groups.

“It is clear that a minority of those who participated were actual union members,” it continued.

According to The New York Times, nearly 2,000 protesters engaged in violent protests in the city’s central business district. The acts were again met by police officers in riot gear firing rubber bullets and using pepper spray.

As a result of the ongoing protests, Melbourne construction and state officials announced that jobsites in the area, and surrounding areas, would be closed for at least two weeks. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews reported that multiple outbreaks—as high as 13% of all cases, according to local media reports—have been linked to construction sites.

“Construction workers are a mobile workforce who may work across multiple sites and travel longer distances to work than other permitted workers,” Andrews said in a statement. “Concerns have also been raised, and remain, about the sector's compliance with public health measures and directions.”

The Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas added that workers will still be required to show proof of vaccination of at least one vaccine dose when sites reopen on Oct. 5.

U.S. Vaccine Mandates

While the construction industry in the United States has yet to issue a nation-wide vaccine mandate, President Joe Biden recently instructed the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration to draft a new temporary emergency standard that would require employers with more than 100 employees to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The alternative option for unvaccinated workers requires proof of a weekly negative test result. In addition, the proposed rules would also mandate that businesses offer employees paid time off to get vaccinated and/or to recover from post-vaccination side effects.

The announcement arrives as a part of President Biden’s six-pronged comprehensive national strategy to combat COVID-19. The prongs of the White House plan are as follows:

  • Vaccinating the Unvaccinated;
  • Further Protecting the Vaccinated;
  • Keeping Schools Safely Open;
  • Increasing Testing & Requiring Masking;
  • Protecting Our Economic Recovery; and
  • Improving Care for those with COVID-19.

According to The Times, if passed, the rules would affect some 80 million workers. However, last week, President Biden was reported to have signed an executive order requiring all federal executive branch workers to get vaccinated. The new standard is slated to be extended to employees of contractors that do business with the federal government, as well as some 17 million health care workers in hospitals and other institutions that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding.

Such a standard would pre-empt existing rules by state governments, except in states that have their own OSHA-approved workplace agencies—or roughly half the states in the country. States with their own programs will have 30 days to adopt a standard that is at least as effective, and that must cover state and local government employees. Federal OSHA rules do not cover state and local government employees.

At this time, no draft regulations have been released, although OSHA state plans will have 30 days to adopt their own regulations that are similar or more restrictive than OSHA’s vaccine emergency temporary standard.

In other U.S. locations taking on their own mandates, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown recently required that all employees working as K-12 educators, health care workers and all state employees would need to be vaccinated to work.

The newly mandated employees have been given until Oct. 18 to be vaccinated or they could face termination.

“We’ve heard employees throughout the state express their concerns about the COVID-19 vaccination requirement in a variety of ways,” said Angela Beers Seydel, public information officer at the transportation department. “We’ve also had employees share their appreciation for the requirement.”

For those opposing the mandate, some have also gone to protesting; however, a group of state police and firefighters have gone as far to sue Brown over the requirement. The friction between employees and employers over vaccinations is likely to increase in coming weeks.

   

Tagged categories: Australia; Construction; COVID-19; Government; Health and safety; OC; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Workers

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