Construction workers walk off to support ANU encampment

Construction workers walked off the job at ANU in Canberra to support the Gaza solidarity encampment after a series of threats from the university.

Students at the encampment were warned to leave. But on 27 May, with police set to arrive to clear them out, hundreds of students, staff and community supporters arrived to support them. Up to 100 students staged a sit-in inside the camp, refusing to leave.

Almost a month after the encampment began on Kambri Lawns, the university had decided that using that site posed “an unacceptable safety risk”. It claimed they were camping in an evacuation area.

This came a week after eight students were given personal notices threatening them with disciplinary action by the university if they refused to leave the encampment.

Police promised to return the next day to dismantle the camp and students were given a deadline of 12pm. In response some of the camp organisers decided to move the camp to a new location, as requested by the university.

A rally in support of the camp went ahead the next day, with support from unions including the NTEU and CFMEU.

Construction workers at the university walked out of work to join the protest. CFMEU ACT Assistant Secretary Michael Hiscox told the rally, “We deal with the university a lot. Universities, especially this one, have actually now become property developers.

“It shows how hypocritical [they are] that they would stand behind work, health and safety as justification to move people on.

“Where we are standing right now, some people might remember a flood that happened in Canberra six or seven years ago during the construction of this project. Half of the formwork was washed away which put the job back, on paper six to eight months.

“The university turned around to the builder and said, we don’t care, build it in the same amount of time’.

“That meant we had people working in 38-degree heat, some passing out from heat exhaustion. We had plasterers from migrant communities working 90-hour weeks.

“That is their commitment to work, health and safety. ANU regularly engages some of the cheapest builders to build their buildings.

“We have Richard Brooks building the student accommodation, where we’ve seen them exposing the whole worksite to silica dust.

“That’s obviously dangerous to those workers there. But it spread all throughout the campus. That is the university’s commitment to work health and safety when it might cost them money. But when it’s something that they want to shut down, all of a sudden it’s the biggest deal in the world.

“In a sign of solidarity with the rally today, we’ve decided we want to ensure work health and safety. So all building work has ceased on the campus.

“We’re sending a message to the ANU.”

ANU has more than $1 million invested in eight arms companies, runs an internship with Northrup Grumman and also maintains ties with the Australian Signals Directorate, which runs the spy base Pine Gap.

The university is yet to respond to any of the students’ demands about divesting and ending partnerships with arms companies or ending its exchange partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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