Violent scenes have erupted at a building site in Melbourne’s CBD this morning as striking construction workers clashed with mounted police as they advanced on their picket line.
Construction workers were seen lashing out at mounted police about 7am as officers advanced on Colonial First State’s $250 million Emporium Melbourne project, which has been blockaded by striking workers since last Wednesday.
The crowd of construction workers on Swanston Street had swelled to about 400 by 7.30am as Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and Electrical Trades Union members from sites across the city joined the protest.
The CFMEU wants better access to Grocon sites and to name shop stewards on its projects.
Grocon obtained a Supreme Court injunction last week banning key union organisers from being on the Lonsdale Street project, or at the company’s other Melbourne building sites. Some union organisers have ignored that court order, and will face fines.
Construction workers and police face off. Photo: Reader Garry Dalton
Grocon chief Daniel Grollo last week said the picket line was illegal. “[They] need to respect the law and to stop their campaign of intimidation against our workers,” he said.
CFMEU state secretary Bill Oliver said today that while there had been reports that construction workers had punched horses during the confrontation with police, they were just defending themselves amid the panic as they tried to avoid being trampled.
The union leader also said that today’s confrontation had been stage-managed by Grocon’s chief executive.
‘‘We will not tolerate this sort of thing from Daniel Grollo,’’ Mr Oliver said.
A Victoria Police spokeswoman said police were attempting to assist Grocon employees to safely cross the picket line and enter their workplace.
‘‘The matters before the Supreme Court are a civil matter between the CFMEU and Grocon,’’ the spokeswoman said.
‘‘Police are not acting to enforce the civil writ, we are ensuring that those people who have a right to attend their work in a safe manner are given that opportunity.’’
Lonsdale and Little Bourke Streets will be blocked between Swanston and Elizabeth streets until further notice.
A number of workers were sprayed with OC foam as the two groups came face to face in a tense stand-off this morning.
Union members said they had been sprayed with OC foam during the scuffles with police.
Construction workers told The Age they were protesting against the company bringing in interstate labour to reduce rates and conditions.
Striking workers were shouting ‘‘scab’’ at workers they claimed were not union members, and who could be seen through a glass wall at the Grocon site.
Some protesters at the site began dispersing and going back to their jobs around the city about 8.30am, however a picket line is expected to remain throughout the day.
A union leader said through a microphone: ‘‘Go back and tell your boss that all this grief has been caused by Daniel Grollo.’’
Mr Oliver said today’s barricade was all about protecting workers’ rights.
He said the workers had been banned from wearing union stickers on the work site, and from flying the union’s flag.
Earlier tension had evaporated, with a union leader even singing happy birthday to a television reporter. The crowd joined in.