Hotel quarantine security guards were underpaid in Melbourne and Sydney

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Companies providing security guards to the Sydney and Melbourne hotel quarantine schemes underpaid more than 1000 staff more than $1 million last year but so far only $303,299 has been recovered.

About $900,000 – the vast majority of the underpayments – happened in NSW at Unified Security Group Australia, a principal contractor for both state government’s quarantine schemes, but the company went into liquidation before repaying it.

Ombudsman Sandra Parker’s office has found widespread underpayments among firms providing hotel quarantine security.Credit:Jason South

Of 37 businesses audited by the Fair Work Ombudsman, 41 per cent were found to be breaching pay rules by either underpaying staff or not keeping proper records that can make it hard for staff to know if they are getting the right wages.

Security guards at quarantine hotels repeatedly caught the coronavirus in the earlier stages of the pandemic and the Victorian hotel quarantine inquiry was highly critical of the state government’s decision to use a casualised, poorly trained workforce of security contractors for the job.

“This, of course, had flow on impacts in terms of the spread of the virus,” retired judge Jennifer Coate found.

Victoria’s work health and safety regulator has brought charges against the state’s Department of Health, alleging that it failed to provide proper training and supervision at the quarantine hotels, putting security guards and others at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Of the $304,299 recovered by the ombudsman, $288,938 was from Melbourne with the remainder from Sydney. One business was responsible for $207,681 of the underpayments. More than $11,000 in fines were issued.

But the lion’s share of the wage problems were found at Unified Security Group Australia, which was a principal security contractor for both the Victorian and NSW government’s hotel quarantine schemes.

It admitted it owed about $900,000 to staff in Sydney, the Ombudsman’s statement said, but Unified went into liquidation in May.

“We expect all businesses at all levels of a supply chain to meet their obligations under workplace laws so that workers are paid the wages and entitlements they are lawfully owed,” said ombudsman Sandra Parker.

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