“I was hired one night before when quarantine starts in hotels. All guards who worked in these hotels didn’t have proper PPE [personal protective equipment] training, no induction, nothing,” he said.
“Security guards used to eat together and hug each other. When I start working in Rydges on Swanston, I didn’t know that all the guests living in rooms are confirmed COVID patients. Guards were instructed to take these people for walks on the rooftop walking area and guards just wear a mask and share lifts with these people.”
Other casual guards have complained that another subcontractor did not pay them.
He also claimed that, after the state government announced its inquiry into hotel quarantine, the guards were handed a confidentiality agreement requiring them not to divulge any information about “the affairs of SSG” or their clients.
“When all this comes into news and government decided inquiry about this, they gave us this form to fill up,” he said.
There is no independent way of verifying the timing of this form being handed out. Confidentiality agreements are standard across the security industry. The owners of Sterling Security Group could not be reached for comment and its business website appears to have been disabled in late May.
Correspondence seen by The Age and Herald between a host of other guards shows another security subcontractor involved in hotel quarantine has also been accused of underpayment and subsequently reported to police.
The decision by the Andrews government to use private security to guard the hotels rather than police, corrections or Defence personnel has drawn strong criticism from the opposition and sections of the public.
An inquiry headed by retired judge Jennifer Coate into the role of security guards at quarantine hotels began on Monday. Public hearings begin in August and a report will be released in September. The inquiry will examine the extent to which Victoria’s present surge of infections, which has killed 29 people, can be linked to failures in the hotel quarantine program.
Unified Security, which was not on the government’s panel of security providers, engaged five subcontractors to provide guards. The company, which ended up overseeing security at 13 hotels, said it required all sub-contractors to comply with industrial obligations and conduct audits to ensure correct payments to staff.
“Unified was not aware of any breaches of any industrial obligations by Unified’s subcontractors. Had we been made aware of those matters we would have taken action including investigating the allegations and if true Unified would have taken steps to ensure that employees were being paid correctly or sought to terminate the contract,” the company said.
Unified Security also said it was the responsibility of state authorities to handle infection control in hotels. It said its staff and subcontractors were properly trained and had access to personal protective equipment.
In June, just as the extent of the hotel quarantine failures were becoming clear, the Andrews government released a review into the security industry which found it “characterised by a workforce that is highly casualised, relatively low-paid and transient”.
Richard Baker is a multi-award winning investigative reporter for The Age.