News Coronavirus Quarantine hotel guards recruited via WhatsApp, ‘told to bring their own masks’

Quarantine hotel guards recruited via WhatsApp, ‘told to bring their own masks’

hotel quarantine virus melbourne
Shayla Shakshi was appalled at what she saw when she worked as a security guard at a quarantine hotel. Photo: ABC
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Some security guards were hired to work at Melbourne’s COVID-19 quarantine hotels through WhatsApp messages, in a process so murky that some didn’t even know who they were actually working for.

Shayla Shakshi was one of the guards who received a WhatsApp message offering her work as a quarantine security guard in a Melbourne hotel.

“They actually contacted me and they’re like, ‘Would you like to work at this place?” she told 7.30.

“And I’m like, I don’t know what you guys are, what company, nothing.

“I just got told that you need to be here at a certain time and you’re going to dress in a certain way and this is your pay rate. That’s it.”

melbourne hotel quarantine virus
The WhatsApp recruitment message from a company looking for guards at the Stamford Plaza hotel. Photo: ABC

Concerns raised about COVID-19 outbreaks

In late March, without a tender process, the Victorian government contracted private security operators to guard hotel quarantine guests.

The companies contracted included MSS Security, which was put in charge of the Stamford Plaza, and Unified Security, which took care of Rydges on Swanston in Carlton.

7.30 has obtained a series of WhatsApp messages that reveal how some security guards were recruited to work in these Melbourne quarantine hotels.

On May 30, three days after the first hotel coronavirus outbreak at Rydges on Swanston, there was a call out for “40 guards” to do quarantine work at the hotel.

One person in the group expressed concern about “six corona positive guards in [the] Carlton hotel … so please be careful”.

That concern received no response.

melbourne quarantine hotel virus
A WhatsApp message from private contractors recruiting security guards for Rydges on Swanston. Photo: ABC

Unified Security was the company responsible for quarantine security at Rydges on Swanston.

The company told 7.30 it entered into a relationship with five subcontractors and all were “properly screened to ensure compliance with ACN [Australian Company Number] , insurance and security licence requirements”.

Rydges on Swanston told 7.30 it had been operating under the direction of Victoria’s Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions and Department of Health and Human Services.

“Rydges on Swanston has had no involvement in the hiring of security personnel and is fully supportive of the judicial inquiry into the hotel quarantine program,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

On June 18, two days after a worker at the Stamford Plaza tested positive, there was a request for 10 guards to work at that hotel.

When someone in the group asked about the rate of pay, the organiser responded, “25 dollars, ABN” – signifying the guards weren’t expected to be directly employed by the company, but act as independent contractors and supply an Australian Business Number.

Bryan Goudsblom is the CEO of a Melbourne-based security company.

He refuses to use subcontractors and believes it will make it difficult for the judicial inquiry now underway to determine which companies provided security services.

“This is going to be really difficult,” he told 7.30.

“Who are the subcontractors? How many were there? And then, how many people did they supply?

“I would suggest if you’re looking at the WhatsApp sort of system, if that’s their proof of delivery, then there is going to be a lot of questions asked.

“I’m not surprised that the hotel quarantine situation’s occurred given that a number of these situations and practices have occurred for many, many years.”

When approached by 7.30, MSS Security, the company contracted to run security at the Stamford Plaza, refused to comment, citing its contract obligations with the Victorian government.

melbourne quarantine hotel virus
A sign at the Rydges on Swanston. Photo: ABC

Guards had ‘no training’,  told ‘bring your own masks’

Ms Shakshi also claimed there were no infection-control protocols at the Stamford Plaza when she worked there in May.

“We didn’t get any training when I got there,” she said.

“They just didn’t tell us what training we had to do, we just had to put a mask on, put gloves on, and that’s it.

“They had no training of how to use PPE (personal protective equipment), how to sanitise hands, nothing. No training at all.

“Then some levels didn’t have sanitisers, so it was really tricky.

“You just didn’t want to touch anything.”

At the end of her first day on the job, Ms Shakshi said her supervisors told her to bring her own personal protective equipment to wear the next day.

“Bring your own masks from tomorrow, bring your own gloves, your own sanitisers, because we might run out because we have so many guards on site,” she said.

She was so appalled she decided it wasn’t worth coming back.

“I was like, no, I don’t want to work at a place which is so unsafe.

“That was the first shift I did … first and last shift.

“I just didn’t want to go back there.”

Some guards ‘taking COVID as a joke’

Within weeks of Ms Shakshi cancelling the rest of her shifts, an outbreak linked to security guards at the hotel was confirmed.

“I just knew something would happen,” Ms Shakshi said.

“Guards were hitting each other. They’re hugging each other. They were touching each other.

“They weren’t actually serious about how serious this COVID is.

“They were taking it as a joke, like, oh, it’s just some virus that anyone can get. You know, we’re not going to get it.”

Ms Shakshi watched, horrified, as that initial COVID-19 outbreak spread.

And she is just glad she didn’t stay.

“It was just really scary working there because they didn’t care,” she said.

“It was really horrible.”