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Hostile protest turns violent at Vic CFMEU

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By Emily Woods and Melissa Meehan in Melbourne
Source: AAP

Glass bottles have been pelted at the Melbourne headquarters of the CFMEU as a protest against mandatory vaccines turned ugly, with the union blaming “outside extremists” for the violence.

The bottles were thrown at the already smashed glass entrance doors to the building in Melbourne’s CBD as those protecting the entry sought refuge indoors just before 4pm.

Earlier on Monday, hundreds of construction workers wearing high-vis and their supporters stormed the office in Melbourne’s CBD, protesting against new mandatory vaccination rules for the building industry.

Chanting “f*** the jab”, those rallying are against having to show proof of their vaccination to be allowed back on building sites, with some saying they would rather the entire construction industry be shut down.

A sign with “my body my choice” can be seen among the protesters.

There is currently a 25 per cent cap on the industry’s workforce in Victoria, with tradies required to have had their first dose of a vaccine by this Thursday to be allowed back to work.

Monday’s protest escalated when two union officials, including Victorian construction branch secretary John Sekta, came outside the Elizabeth Street office to speak to protesters just before midday.

Mr Setka was met with boos and insults from the crowd, while some protesters hurled bottles.

“Please calm down. Can you at least give me the respect to talk? We’re not the enemy, I don’t know what you have heard,” he says to protesters, in a video posted to social media.

“I have never, ever said I support mandatory vaccination.”

The protesters then called for the CFMEU leader to “stand up or stand down” and yelled “we are one”.

Once Mr Setka went back inside, the protesters smashed a glass door to the building.

By 1pm the protest had swelled to fill both sides of Elizabeth Street, with union delegates standing at the front of the building to stop protesters from entering.

Rain and hail has not deterred the protesters, with calls for Mr Setka to come back outside and march with them.

Some of those rallying say they will come to the CFMEU office every day until the union bows to their demands.

Just before 2pm a protester went inside to meet with union officials.

Police are gathered around the rally and have blocked off parts of the road, but do not appear to be moving protesters on.

It is unclear whether all of those protesting are construction workers, as a message on the Melbourne Freedom Rally Telegram group encouraged anti-lockdown protesters to join them.

“If you are in the area and wish to support these guys head down,” a Telegram message said.

Another said: “If you got a high vis just get down there NUMBERS!”.

Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne during his daily coronavirus update the protests were “not smart, they are not safe”.

“This industry is open at 25 per cent, we want to get to 50, being vaccinated is an incredibly important part of that,” Mr Andrews said.

“Protests don’t work. Getting vaccinated works, following the rules works. That’s how you stay open, that’s how you get open.”

Monday’s rally comes after construction workers set up plastic chairs and tables in the middle of streets across Melbourne on Friday, protesting against the lockdown restrictions that included shutting down tea rooms for morning breaks.

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