By Ceri Hohner
Following a recent spate of outbreaks in or resulting from the construction sector, on Monday night, the Victorian Government announced that all construction activity in Melbourne and certain Local Government Areas would be shut down for a two-week period.
With more than 400 of Victoria’s COVID-19 cases linked to construction workers, the Victorian Government has followed up its initial plans of mandatory vaccination requirements with an abrupt fortnight closure of construction projects in metropolitan Melbourne, City of Ballarat, City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire. There are exemptions on safety grounds, such as attending sites to ensure they’re shut down safely, but otherwise, the industry has come to a noisy, grinding halt, with violent protests needing to be dispersed by the Victorian Police.
The construction industry, identified as a highly mobile and generally young workforce, are at particular risk for transmission of the COVID-19 virus as a result of factors such as work performed at multiple sites, travelling long distances for work, and congregating in confined spaces such as tearooms/lunchrooms. While it is estimated to cost millions of dollars, the shutdown aims to minimise such transmission and allow time for other protective measures to be implemented, such as increased vaccination rates. When the sector is permitted to re-open, the original vaccination requirements will still be in place; workers attending any construction site will be required to have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and provide evidence to the principal contractor of that site (with exemptions for those individuals who can prove a contraindication).
Construction-based employers affected by these directions are placed in the unenviable position of managing their businesses for the next two weeks without any construction work being permitted to be performed. Unpaid stand downs may be appropriate for employers to rely on during these difficult times, but businesses should first attempt to consult directly with employees to explore other options such as taking leave or performing alternative work.
Please note that the Government restrictions are frequently changing, and as such, this article is for notification purposes only and should not be relied on. Employers should check the latest restrictions here.
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Ceri Hohner is a Senior Associate and Solicitor at FCB Workplace Law (our parent company) who has assisted clients across Australia from a range of industries and businesses.