At least a dozen members of the Victorian construction union could be expelled for their part in violent protests opposing vaccine mandates in Melbourne last month.
A fortnight after protests outside the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union’s headquarters in Melbourne led to days of violent clashes between police and demonstrators, the union says it has identified about a dozen members among the crowd.
Windows were smashed at the union’s office and anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protestors tussled with officials.
In a statement, a union spokesperson said CFMEU officials were still working through footage from the day of the first protest outside the headquarters.
“Officials are still working through the footage from the day. To date they have confirmed a dozen but expect there to be some more,” a union spokesperson said.
“Members who played a role in any violent behaviour will meet with the CFMEU executive and can be expelled from the union.”
The union’s secretary, John Setka, who is isolating after a Covid-19 outbreak among CFMEU officials following the protest, said members would be called before the union’s executive and could face expulsion.
“We don’t need people like that in the building industry. It’s a dangerous industry and if people want to behave in that manner they can go and work somewhere else,” he told the ABC.
“Look what they’ve created. I just hope they’re proud of themselves, they ought to hang their heads in shame. It’s an absolute disgrace.”
The CFMEU told Guardian Australia that members would “most likely” be expelled if “they are proven to be guilty of unlawful and violent behaviour”.
Police confront construction workers and demonstrators on the steps of the Shrine of Remembrance on one day of the violent protests. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
The protests have sparked a Covid-19 outbreak among CFMEU officials. Seven of the officials who were at the union’s headquarters at the time of the protests have since tested positive for Covid and the union said contact tracers from Victoria’s health department had linked them to cases among demonstrators.
Setka said on Wednesday the infection had spread beyond those initial employees to dozens of family members including young children.
“We’ve got a case of a four-month-old toddler who’s got it, young children, grandparents, it is just absolutely terrible,” he told the ABC.
“My understanding is some of them are seriously unwell. I don’t think they’re on a ventilator, but they’re not really travelling that well.”
Since the protests, some workers in Victoria have told the Guardian about reports of construction employees losing their jobs after being identified at the protests. But on Wednesday the CFMEU said it was “not directly aware” of those reports.
“If a member feels they have been unfairly dismissed they should contact the office,” the spokesperson said.
Last month’s protests were sparked by a deadline for construction workers in the state to be vaccinated by the end of September. While the deadline has passed, the Victorian government last month announced a sweeping mandate for authorised workers to have received at least one vaccination dose by 15 October.
Setka acknowledged that some workers had genuine concerns about receiving the vaccine and he said the union did not support mandatory jabs for CFMEU members.
He said the union would provide those members with legal advice. “Whether we agree with it or not, we have to respect that genuine fear,” the union boss said.