CFMEU boss John Setka’s legal threat over Victoria Covid-19 vaccine mandate


Victoria’s construction sector is now considering a legal fight against the vaccine mandate, just two weeks after wild protests caused chaos in Melbourne.

Victoria’s construction industry is now threatening legal action against the state government’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate, just two weeks after workers staged wild protests on the streets of Melbourne.

The headquarters of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) in North Melbourne became the centre of the heated industrial action a fortnight ago after the Andrews government mandated the Covid-19 vaccine for the sector.

It also prompted a two-week shutdown of construction sites across Victoria, with health officials also concerned about a lack of Covid-19 safety compliance and transmission across work sites.

But with the mandate still being enforced and construction employees returning to work this week, CFMEU state secretary John Setka warned the fight was still not over.

“I don’t think anything should be mandated,” he told ABC News on Wednesday morning.

“That’s my view but at the same time we got the large majority of our members that are pro-vaccine and some of them have expressed a concern about their right to not work with people who haven’t been vaccinated, so there’s a bit of a mixed bag.

“We support people’s rights to a choice and we’ve also said that people that are stood down or lose their jobs because of it, we will represent them.”

Mr Setka said the CFMEU’s internal legal team would assess individual cases and then pass them on to their law firm, Maurice and Blackburn.

“We don’t want to burn members’ money fighting cases all the way to the High Court which are going to end up nowhere … we’re getting some serious legal advice on it (the mandate),” he said.

Mr Setka also disagreed that many construction sites were high risk for Covid-19 clusters.

“In the commercial sector that wasn’t actually the case … there’s a lot of countermeasures that have been put in place,” he said.

“Apart from one site in Box Hill, we had no breakouts on commercial construction sites.”

The CFMEU head office was declared a Covid-19 exposure site last Wednesday, with Mr Setka forced into isolation as a result.

CFMEU Victoria and Tasmania president Robert Graauwmans was also a positive case.

In a statement, the CFMEU blamed the “reckless and irresponsible behaviour of protesters” for the transmission of coronavirus at the Melbourne headquarters.

“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,” it said.

“Officials and staff are deeply concerned for the wellbeing of their families and the risk of the infection spreading.”

Mr Setka said what started as seven cases had now grown to dozens of infections.

One CFMEU member had 14 people in his family who had contracted the virus, he said.

“We got a case of a four-month-old toddler, young children, grandparents, it is just absolutely terrible,” Mr Setka said.

“Some of them are seriously unwell. I don’t think they’re on a ventilator, but they’re not travelling that well, but also their mental anguish, the anxiety, you don’t know what’s happening, including myself.

“I had to isolate. I had to do tests and during that period, before the tests, before this got identified, I visited my elderly parents to do a welfare check on them.

“I can imagine what these families are going through, just terrible and just so irresponsible by these people what they have created.”

The Victorian government has been contacted for comment.

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