Victoria hotel quarantine guards accused of bad behaviour in emails in inquiryBy Kristian Silva and Elias ClureThursday August 27, 2020 19/12604326An email sent in May said Unified workers at Rydges harassed staff and nurses. (ABC News)Security
guards were accused of intimidating nurses and “hitting on” staff at
the Rydges on Swanston hotel during Melbourne’s hotel quarantine program
in May.Among the hundreds of pages of documents tendered to
the hotel quarantine inquiry, emails between government bureaucrats
outlined “very serious concerns” about the behaviour of Unified Security
staff and subcontractors.The emails also revealed frustrations with Wilson Security, which led to its contracts ending at Melbourne’s quarantine hotels.In
an email on May 10, a Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
team leader at Rydges detailed “harassment towards staff” and “leering”
comments towards nurses from Unified workers, including one who was told
to eat because she was “skinny”. Key points:• The hotel quarantine inquiry is investigating what went wrong in the program in Victoria• Government emails submitted to the inquiry reveal complaints made about guards from the Wilson and Unified security companies• A message from a senior bureaucrat suggests police did not want the ADF to have a “boots on the ground” presence
The issues raised also included:”Speaking to female hotel staff in ways that are overly friendly and ‘hitting on’ them.”Guards
employed or subcontracted by Unified were also accused of helping
themselves to food in the hotel’s commercial kitchen. Hotel staff became
so frustrated they set up a table to block the kitchen door, the
complaint said.The DHHS team leader said “it is not every
staff member involved in this” and singled out three Unified workers who
were “respectful and working well”. Following the complaints, Unified
stood down its entire staff at Rydges the following day and replaced
them with a new batch of workers, according to a follow-up email from
Paul Xerri, the principal policy officer with the Department of Jobs,
Precincts and Regions (DJPR).Guards clogged toilets, slipped note under guest’s doorComplaints
about guards’ performance were not only linked to Unified. Staff at
DJPR, who oversaw security contracts during the hotel quarantine, talked
about plans to end Wilson Security’s work less than a month into the
program after several complaints.Global Victoria chief executive Gonul Serbest says Wilson guards’ behaviour was “just not cool.” (Hotel Quarantine Inquiry)The
hotel inquiry heard on Thursday how Wilson, Unified and MSS were hired
quickly, as bureaucrats rushed to set up the hotel program in late March
after the Federal Government ordered the states to put returned
overseas travelers into mandated quarantine.On
April 22, Mr. Xerri wrote that Wilson was switched out of the Crowne
Plaza hotel and replaced with Unified. “Unified has delivered a vastly
improved level of service,” he wrote.”Wilson has terribly
underperformed at this site,” he said of Wilson’s work at another venue,
the Pan Pacific Hotel. At the Pan Pacific, the hotel’s front office
manager accused Wilson’s guards of clogging toilets for three days after
flushing tissues and gloves.In one incident, a guard slipped
a note under a returned traveler’s door which said: “Hey hun, add me on
Snapchat”. The guard had taken the woman out for an exercise break with
other guests two days earlier. The chief executive of Global Victoria,
an agency within the DJPR, said there had been “significant issues with
Wilson from day one.””How can we move them on and what’s the
notice period?” Gonul Serbest asked in an email. “Their bad behaviour is
now significantly impacting us. It’s just not cool.”Ms. Serbest was also upset about a night where the Wilson duty manager was sweating so profusely that it “raised alarms for us”.”Literally all his hair was drenched in perspiration,” she wrote in her witness statement.At
the inquiry on Thursday, Wilson Security lawyer Robert Craig said DJPR
director Katrina Currie had noted in emails to her colleagues that
Wilson had a good reputation and had been successfully engaged by the
department before.Mr. Craig also queried Ms. Serbest’s stance
on Wilson in the early days of the hotel scheme. “You had no issue with
or were not made aware of any issues of Wilson’s approach to infection
control … [and] you had no issue with respect to Wilson’s training of
its guards as to the public health risks posed by COVID-19?” he asked.”That’s correct,” Ms. Serbest answered.Mr.
Craig also pointed out that Wilson had fired a guard after misconduct
complaints were laid against him. “That’s the correct way of dealing
things with it isn’t it?” Mr. Craig asked.”That’s correct,” Ms. Serbest said.Victoria Police wanted to ‘avoid military presence’On
Thursday, the inquiry heard evidence from DJPR director Claire Febey,
who was unhappy Victoria Police did not play a more active role in
guarding quarantined guests.
DJPR director
Claire Febey was unhappy the police didn’t have a more active role in
the program. (Supplied: COVID-19 Hotel Inquiry)The documents
tendered suggest that Ms. Febey was told Victoria Police had advised
against a military presence in the hotel quarantine program. In messages
sent via business communication platform Slack, Ms. Febey — and a
senior colleague whose name is redacted from the documents — discussed
confusion around the role of the Australian Defense Force (ADF).In
a message sent at 8:39am on March 27, the day of a key meeting between
hotel quarantine architects, Ms. Febey’s colleague sent her a message:Earlier
in the exchange, the same colleague said Ms. Febey “called [name
redacted] on the ADF question after confusion. ABC has published ADF
will have a role nationally, but [name redacted] advised this may not
apply in a Victorian context, as ADF presence here is more made up of
logisticians than infantry men”. “Apparently on 4.30 telecon with [name redacted] Assistant Commissioner [name redacted] said there would be no boots on the ground ADF support in Victoria. They are Happy to accept ADF’s assistance in terms of Advice and logistics, but avoid military presence except in the case of a terrorist threat and would prefer to rely on Victoria Police.”
Ms. Febey told the inquiry she was under the impression Victoria Police
Assistant Commissioner Mick Grainger and Emergency Management
Commissioner Andrew Crisp had determined that private security would
play a lead role in guarding the hotels.She said she expressed concerns about the arrangement but her advice “didn’t gain any traction”.’Sydney has the army there, for Pete’s sake.’Emails
also highlighted an incident where a hotel quarantine guest escaped
their room and made a dash for the lobby at the Crown Metropol hotel at
3:00am on March 30.”He was in need of a cigarette,” Unified Security’s state manager wrote to government department staff.In response, DJPR priority projects executive director Cam Nolan said the incident showcased why police were needed.”We’ll use this to bolster our case to DHHS that they should insist on a 24/7 police presence,” he wrote.”Sydney has the army there, for Pete’s sake.”Australian
Defense Force personnel were not involved in ground-level operations of
Victoria’s hotel quarantine program, and in recent months their absence
fueled arguments between the State and Federal Governments.The
hotel inquiry continues on Friday, where representatives from the
Travelodge, Crown, Four Points by Sheraton, Rydges and Stamford Plaza
hotels will give evidence.
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