A security company contracted to provide guards for Melbourne’s COVID-19 quarantine hotels potentially breached its agreement with the Victorian government, with an email suggesting it failed to inform at least one of its subcontractors of its obligations.
Wilson Security then attempted to conceal this failing by asking the subcontractor to backdate documents for the government.
Wilson made the backdating request in an email, provided to 7.30, nine weeks after its subcontractor had hired guards to work in a quarantine hotel.
Victoria’s former chief crown prosecutor, Gavin Silbert, has reviewed the correspondence.
“It was an attempt to cover up, effectively, by Wilson,” he told 7.30.
“Wilson are trying to cover their tracks and to cover themselves from any sort of legal liability and any sort of blame.”
Subcontractors must ‘agree to the same obligations’
In March three private security companies, MSS, Unified and Wilson Security, were contracted at short notice by the Victorian government to provide hundreds of guards to work in quarantine hotels.
Subcontracting was allowed under the government’s agreement with Wilson, obtained by 7.30, but the security company was meant to pass on its obligations of training and infection control to every subcontractor.
“They must agree to the same obligations and that’s got to be consented to prior to the subcontracting,” Mr Silbert said.
“And if Wilson subcontract without the prior approval of the Victorian government, they’re in breach of the agreement.”
Security guards working in hotel quarantine have been accused of not following infection control protocols and have previously been blamed for Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19, which has seen thousands of new cases and hundreds of people die.
Subcontractor not aware of the obligations
Within hours of the Victorian government announcing an inquiry into hotel quarantine on July 2, Wilson sent an email to the subcontractor.
“Wilson is asking the subcontractor on the 2nd of July to sign an acknowledgement that they were aware of the obligations as at the 30th of April,” Mr Silbert said.
“The request was to backdate the acknowledgement by the subcontractor that they were aware, as at the 30th of April, of the obligations that were being subcontracted to them.
“The subcontractor refused to sign such an undertaking and in an email to Wilson said that they could not sign it because they were simply not aware of the obligations and the conditions that they were bound by as at the 30th of April, and that they couldn’t backdate from the 2nd of July.”
Mr Silbert said the revelation did not just reflect badly on Wilson Security.
“It also suggests a sloppiness on the part of the Victorian government, not having insisted on seeing written consents and agreements to be bound by the agreement by the subcontractor prior to consenting to the subcontract being entered into,” he said.
Messages highlight concerns over guards’ behaviour
In a statement, Wilson told 7.30 all contractors had agreements in place before commencing work on the hotel quarantine program and were aware of their obligations and duties.
Wilson Security had no positive cases of COVID-19 in its quarantine hotels, unlike MSS and Unified Security which looked after the Stamford Plaza and Rydges on Swanston where multiple guards were infected.
But WhatsApp messages provided to 7.30 reveal Wilson still faced its own issues in managing guards.
In one of the messages, another of Wilson’s subcontractors suggested an investigation was launched by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) after a guard was caught speaking to a guest with the door open.
A separate message flagged concerns guards were breaching isolation rules and engaging with guests at “a hotel project”.
Wilson told 7.30 it “identified and acted swiftly in addressing all matters arising during the program to ultimately contain the spread of COVID-19”.
Subcontractors contacted by 7.30 declined to comment on whether Wilson asked them to backdate any documents.