Hotel quarantine security guards at the frontline of keeping the highly-contagious B117 variant of COVID-19 out of Western Australia have called for better wages and duty of care provisions, with many paid as little as $22 an hour to put their health at risk during 12-hour shifts.
Speaking anonymously for fear of being sacked, two security guards working for different private contractors have spoken out about the poor conditions and personal toll of the job.
“We’re not being treated nicely, we’re not being paid well, we’re not looked after,” one said.
“What’s the upside?”
Both security guards have come to the defence of a young colleague known as Case 903, who tested positive to the UK variant and sparked Perth’s lockdown, saying the “poor fella” was being demonised.
It has been revealed that Case 903 appeared to have contracted the virus from a returned overseas traveller, despite being stationed two metres away from the person’s room, at the Four Points by Sheraton in Perth.
According to authorities, he did not, as was earlier thought, deliver medical supplies to the room.
Concern about airborne spread
One guard, who works at another quarantine hotel in Perth, told the ABC the case was a “game-changer” for security personnel working at the quarantine hotels.
“Everyone’s confidence has been really shaken,” the guard said.
“I live at home with an elderly family member and many, many people I work with live in multi-generational houses. Every time we do our hallway walks [in the hotel corridors] we are just as close as that guard got.
“For me, that’s a real concern.”
On Wednesday, WA’s director of communicable disease control, Paul Armstrong, confirmed that up until this point security guards at quarantine hotels had not been required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) unless they heard guests coming or had an “inkling” that their door would open.
Dr Armstrong said that policy would be changed and PPE would now be mandatory for security guards at all times.
The move has been welcomed by the two guards interviewed by the ABC.
“I appreciate the fact that they are prioritising our health but still question why this wasn’t instituted before,” one said.
“It feels like all the rules they bring in are a reaction, rather than proactive.”
“If the health department were to sit down privately with a lot of security guards and ask them where the holes are, they would get a lot better response than talking to some of the management who are not on site.”
Guards told to be ‘frugal’ with PPE
Both guards claimed that, if anything, PPE use until this point had been discouraged by supervisors.
“We’ve definitely been told to be frugal with our PPE. We’ve certainly been told that it’s not a bottomless pit,” one said.
“I have been made to feel like, if I asked for extra PPE, that that might be questioned.”