A 19-year-old security guard was sacked after he asked a hotel guest if she wanted to go out for coffee after quarantine, an inquiry has heard.
The incident at Melbourne’s Pan Pacific Hotel was one of two alleged inappropriate advances made by security guards contracted by Wilson Security during the hotel quarantine program.
When the complaint was investigated, the guard claimed the female guest had spoken to him on a number of occasions and they had “smiled” at each other and “exchanged pleasantries such as ‘how are you’, ‘good morning’ and so on”.
On April 11, the guard saw the woman putting her rubbish bag out next to her door and took the chance to say something along the lines of, “Hey would you consider having a coffee with me once this quarantine period is over?”
The complaint was detailed in a submission to Melbourne’s hotel quarantine inquiry by Dan Banks, the business development director of subcontracted security firm Signal88.
“The guard states that the guest had smiled at him and closed her hotel door,” Mr Banks wrote.
“The guard in question is 19 years old and when spoken to, he admitted making the comment, appreciated that in the circumstances it was inappropriate and he was very apologetic.”
In another incident on April 14, a guard slipped a note under a female guest’s door saying “Hey hun, add me on Snapchat”.
A number of complaints about security guards were revealed on Wednesday afternoon in a statement from Gregory Watson, the general manager of regional operations in Victoria and Tasmania for Wilson Security.
Two guards, also subcontracted with Signal88, were sacked after standing back and not intervening as a male quarantine guest yelled and was abusive towards a female nurse.
A handful of other guards were sacked for being on their phone constantly during the shift, sleeping or refusing to wear PPE. One guard was reprimanded for loudly singing as he listened to music on his phone through headphones.
Mr Watson said of the 23 incidents, 21 occurred during the first fortnight of the program.
He said Wilson had successfully implemented high standards, exemplified by the fact no Wilson guards tested positive to COVID-19.
“We took pretty much a no prisoners approach that this needs to be run very strictly and people need to comply with our instructions because this is not the kind of environment where people can have latitude,” he said.
SECURITY GUARDS ‘THREATENED WITH FINES’
Security guards were threatened with $20,000 fines after pushing back on a request to take quarantined hotel guests for fresh air walks, the inquiry has heard.
The startling allegation was made by Mr Watson as he gave evidence on Wednesday afternoon.
Frustrated guests, especially smokers, quickly emerged as an issue in the early days of the program, he said.
“After a couple of days it became apparent that people weren’t happy to stay in a room for 14 days,” he said.
Authorised officers at each hotel introduced fresh air walks, but didn’t consult with Wilson and instead asked guards on the ground to take guests out, Mr Watson said.
In one instance on April 8, guards pushed back and were threatened with a $20,000 fine for not following an authorised officer’s request, according to Mr Watson.
“This is obviously not a good way to do business, having people threatened with fines when they’re trying to enforce quarantine guidelines,” he said.
Mr Watson said he emailed the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions over the issue and eventually extra guards were put on to take guests on walks.
CAR POOLING MAY HAVE CAUSED GUARD TRANSMISSION
The simple act of car pooling has been identified as the possible cause of COVID-19 transmission between guards at a Melbourne quarantine hotel, the inquiry has heard.
Shift changeovers and working on the same floor of the Stamford Plaza may have also been key to the virus spreading.
The inquiry into Victoria’s ill-fated hotel quarantine program, from which virtually all cases currently circulating in the state originated, heard on Wednesday from a number of security firms subcontracted to guard returned travellers.
Mina Attalah from United Risk Management told the inquiry guards employed by him who tested positive at the Stamford Plaza had car pooled to work and potentially crossed paths by working on the same floor or during shift changeover.
There were no “obvious breaches” of infection control identified, Mr Attalah said, such as security guards being in hotel rooms.
Guards from another firm, The Security Hub, also tested positive at the same hotel.
After the outbreak, each firm was directed by MSS Security, their head contractor, to tell guards to stop car pooling, the inquiry heard.
The Stamford Plaza outbreak is thought to be the origin of about 10 per cent of current cases circulating in Victoria, with the other 90 per cent coming from Rydges.
The inquiry heard Sterling Security, a different subcontractor firm, never confirmed a guard who eventually tested positive to COVID-19 at Rydges had completed online infection control training.
The security guard, who can only be referred to as Guard 16, previously told the inquiry he went on to deliver food while infectious.
Sterling Security director Sam Aggarwal said it was a “surprise” to find out the guard had done that.
“We told him to stay at home,” he said.
“We were not aware that he’s gone out to do any work.”
Mr Aggarwal told the inquiry he had chased Guard 16 for a certificate of completion for online PPE training but never received it.
Sterling had provided a large number of certificates from other guards to the inquiry, he said.
‘SURVIVAL’ REASON TO TAKE HOTEL QUARANTINE WORK
Security firms who saw their work vanish into thin air when the coronavirus pandemic shut down big events turned to Melbourne’s hotel quarantine as a matter of “survival”, the inquiry has heard.
Black Tie Security director Rob Paciocco said his company went from what was likely to be a “record month” to no work within 72 hours.
The profit margin for hotel quarantine work was low, but he had to take on the work to try and keep his staff, he said.
“It really was about survival and about holding onto a number of good people who have taken years to recruit so I don’t lose them to other companies when things start to pick up,” Mr Paciocco said.
“I wouldn’t dream about operating at 3 per cent ever. But this wasn’t about making money, it was about trying to keep some people employed.”
Mina Attalah from United Risk Management agreed, saying the motive for taking on the work was about “trying to survive in a month where it went completely dead at one time”.
SUBCONTRACTING LAID BARE
The seasonal nature of security work means guards often casually work for multiple companies at one time, the inquiry has heard, as the subcontracting arrangements behind hotel quarantine security were laid bare.
In at least one instance, guards were found through a chain of subcontracting as a firm hired by the Victorian government subcontracted another firm, which in turn used another firm.
Other subcontractors hired guards off Facebook, LinkedIn, Seek and Gumtree to meet the ever-changing demands of the quarantine program.
The fluctuating nature of security work often makes it necessary for guards to seek work at different companies on a casual basis, rather than sticking with one full time, the inquiry heard on Wednesday from a panel of directors from subcontracted security firms.
All of the directors agreed they did not restrict their guards from seeking work at other security businesses.
But they were not aware of any instances in which their guards were working at multiple quarantine sites.
“I don’t have an expectation that they don’t go looking for other work,” Black Tie Security director Rob Paciocco told the inquiry, adding that the ad hoc nature of the industry meant even his permanent staff didn’t have full time work.
After being subcontracted by Wilson Security, Black Tie Security subcontracted Advanced Protective Services to provide guards at the Pullman Hotel, Mr Paciocco said.
A spokesman for Wilson Security told NCA NewsWire it did not allow its contractors to themselves subcontract.
“We reinforced our company position on (Black Tie Security) not using subcontractors and they have assured that they will only use direct employees now,” the spokesman said.
Sterling Security director Sam Aggarwal said his company had no formal restrictions but “verbally encouraged our security guards not to work at any other workplace while they were working in the quarantine hotels, in order to assist with the COVID-19 protection measures that were established”.
Katrina Currie, an executive director at the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, last week told the inquiry she wasn’t aware the three security firms hired by the Victorian government — Unified, Wilson and MSS — would engage subcontractors.
Ms Currie added she was unaware at the time that subcontracting was how the security industry generally worked, and noted that subcontracting was not prohibited in the firm’s contracts.
Lawyers for Wilson and MSS pointed to notes suggesting subcontracting had in fact been discussed in conversations as the firms were hired.