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Protest chaos brings Sydney to standstill

Around 100 union members have convened at a vigil in Sydney's CBD. Picture: Supplied.
Union members remember their colleagues. Picture: Supplied

About 100 union members brought Sydney’s CBD to a standstill in a vigil for 301 truck drivers who have died on roads since 2016.

The “unauthorised public gathering” began at about 11am on Tuesday, when union members and transport workers walked from the Hyatt Regency to the intersection of York St and King St.

Drivers trying to cross the busy intersection were blocked for about 15 minutes, as Transport Workers Union (TWU members) sat on the roads.

Police arrived on the scene around 12 minutes into the protest, when the crowd dispersed and traffic was allowed to continue.

The TWU staged a vigil for the 301 truck drivers who have died since 2016. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Nikki Short
TWU members, transport workers and councillors blocked traffic to hold a vigil in the Sydney’s CBD. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Nikki Short

Speaking at the protest, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said 43 drivers a year, or nearly one truck driver every eight days, had died since the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was abolished under the Coalition government in 2016.

“We’re going to fight to remember the 301. For the families, for the work colleagues – we’re going to fight,” he said.

“This is literally life and death.”

Amid the beeps and horns from the stopped traffic, the union members took a 30-second silence “in memory of the fallen”.

Union members walked from Sydney’s Park Regency to King St. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Nikki Short

Labor Senator Tony Sheldon said the brief disruption was warranted.

“I take great pleasure in standing here with everybody because even though this is a moment of inconvenience, think of the 301 truck drivers who have lost their lives since legislation was abolished by the previous government,” he said.

They gave a short press conference while members sat down at the busy intersection. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Nikki Short

While NSW Police confirmed it was an “unauthorised public gathering” they said there were “no further issues” once traffic returned to normal.

“Officers attached to Sydney City Police Area Command attended a short time later; as police arrived, the crowd dispersed and traffic returned to normal,” a police spokesperson said.

“There were no further issues.”

According to NSW law, protesters can be fined up to $22,000, or jailed to a maximum of two years, after broad new laws were passed in April 2022. The amendments, which were highly criticised by unions, religious and activist groups, meant even disruptions which closed roads or redirected commuters at train stations could be at risk of attracting criminal charges.

When asked about the action on Tuesday, NSW Premier Chris Minns stopped short of condemning the protest and the TWU.

“As Premier of NSW, it’s obviously my job is to ensure that people follow the rules and laws in NSW and that remains my view right now,” he said.

“Notwithstanding that, the purpose of the demonstration is in relation to traffic deaths and I understand there is real community concern and union concern to that important issue.”

Tuesday’s protest marked the first day of the TWU’s National Council, which will continue until Thursday.