SYDNEY — Construction workers in Melbourne, Australia, have long considered the tea rooms set up for eating and smoking on breaks a key part of their working conditions at building sites. Hundreds protested when the bosses shut them down on Victorian state government orders Sept. 16.
In Melbourne’s city center and in a number of suburbs, workers took chairs out and sat in the street for their breaks, disrupting traffic. “They’ve got nowhere else to have smoko [tea break],” John Setka, Victorian secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, told 3AW News Talk radio.
The order to close all the lunch rooms was one of the stepped-up restrictions that the Victorian state government imposed on construction workers in response to a growing number of coronavirus cases. Other measures included a 25% cap on the number of workers at each site, a ban on travel from Melbourne to other areas in Victoria for work, and mandatory vaccination for all construction workers.
A coalition of building trades unions issued a joint statement calling the orders “unworkable and too heavy-handed,” adding “we will continue to campaign against them.”
On Sept. 20 the government ordered all construction sites in Melbourne, Ballarat, Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire shut down for two weeks, blaming the workers for further spread of the virus.
“My campaign joins construction workers and their unions in protesting these anti-working-class restrictions that place control over jobs and conditions in the hands of the government and bosses,” said Robert Aiken, Communist League candidate for Georges River Council here in Sydney. “Our unions should campaign to convince all workers to get vaccinated, to get back on the job to work together to fight attacks on our wages and work conditions.”