Media release

Hotel Quarantine Inquiry: Appalling testimony - profits ahead of safety yet again

Sydney, 24 August, 2020: Evidence heard at Victoria's COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry today has further underscored the risks involved in the contracting of private security services.

Security guards appearing before the inquiry have made claims including that:

  • They were concerned about security staff working across multiple hotel sites (Evidence from Security 1, 21/8/20);
  • There was "subcontracting on top of subcontracting" (Evidence from Security 1, 21/8/20)
  • They were asked to conceal their PPE (masks, gloves) out of sight of security cameras at Rydges hotel on Swanston (Evidence from G16, 24/8/20);
  • They were not explicitly told not to go to work if they developed symptoms (Evidence from G16, 24/8/20);
  • They were required to use a single pair of masks and gloves for an entire shift, due to a shortage (Evidence from G16, 24/8/20);
  • Agencies which contracted security guards did not provide guards with additional PPE or COVID-19 infection control training (Evidence from G16, 24/8/20);
  • A guard made food deliveries while feeling sick, and waiting for COVID-19 test results to come back (Evidence from G16, 24/8/20).

In March the Victorian government contracted MSS, Wilson Security and Unified to provide a workforce of hundreds of security guards for the hotel quarantine program.

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) is calling on investors and companies to urgently review the use of subcontractors in high risk, front line sectors during the pandemic.

Dr Katie Hepworth, Director of Workers’ Rights at ACCR said:

"A complex health environment combined with a series of fractured working arrangements, with confusing lines of control, responsibility, supervision and management, has produced deadly public health and safety outcomes.

“Investors must interrogate companies over their use of subcontractors, and the health, safety and business risks caused by subcontracting. These risks are well known and we are witnessing a domino effect of calamity across multiple sectors during the COVID crisis.

"There are lessons to be learnt, not only for the Victorian government but for companies which make use of contracting and labour hire arrangements, and their investors.

“Years of outsourcing in the security industry has seen the hollowing out of wages and conditions, and seen experienced workers locked out of the industry in favour of inexperienced, lower paid workers.

“The Melbourne quarantine clusters highlight the broken chains of responsibility for worker and community safety, which contracting and subcontracting introduce."

In May 2020, ACCR released a report on Labour Hire and Contracting across the ASX100. The report highlighted a number of increased risks associated with the use of labour hire and subcontracting arrangements, including poorer occupational health and safety (OHS) outcomes.

Issues associated with subcontracting include:

  • Failure to provide proper OHS training
  • Precarious workers unable to raise concerns for fear of losing their jobs
  • Difficulties in passing information between subcontractors.