Casualisation is a Health Risk - Demand Fully Paid Quarantine Staff

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The work done in our hotel quarantine system is some of the most important in Australia. Quarantine staff work in perhaps the most dangerous conditions nationwide, facing direct risks of contracting COVID-19. People have a right to return to Australia from overseas but a robust quarantine system needs to be staffed by workers provided with adequate pay, protection and training. The failure to provide such conditions has had devastating consequences for public safety. 

The recent COVID-19 outbreak in South Australia has exposed the dangerous effects of combining casualisation and the essential work of hotel quarantining. Casualised and underpaid security guards working for private companies were hired to manage quarantine hotels. These workers did not even receive regular testing for COVID-19. This contributed to the recent outbreak. 

This isn’t the first time that similar conditions of insecure work have led to and worsened outbreaks. The recent Victorian ‘second wave’ was spread into the community by infected hotel quarantine security guards. The Victorian Government outsourced security to dodgy private firms that provide staff with often minutes of training and inadequate pay and protection.

Following the Victorian outbreak, an inquiry was made into the failings of the program. The head of the state’s hotel inquiry explained:

 “every effort must be made to ensure that all personnel working at the facility are not working across multiple quarantine sites and not working in other forms of employment”

When this report was reviewed by the South Australian Government, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said he found this to be an “unreasonable” expectation. Premier Steven Marshall also defended the system, claiming there was no evidence South Australia’s system had not met the standard. Instead the South Australian Government has pointed to the actions of one individual to explain the outbreak. Ryan Batchelor, executive director of the McKell Institute in Victoria explained:

“It seemed like the authorities were saying: largely this is the fault of the person who lied to us,” Batchelor said. “The danger here is that this is portrayed as the actions of one person when it actually points to some more systemic issues with the way we work."

This adds to the large suite of evidence indicating our dangerously underfunded quarantine system and Australia’s reliance on an increasingly casualised workforce has been an important factor in the spread of COVID-19. 

No one working in quarantine should have to work a second job. Our quarantine system must be overhauled, placing human life over cost-saving. These frontline positions are responsible for maintaining one of the most important barriers to further outbreaks.

Fully paid specialist positions must be created for the facilitation of quarantines. These workers should receive full wages, regular tests, high grade PPE and all necessary medical training. This should not be outsourced to dodgy security firms in an effort to save money. As Jennifer Coate, head of Victoria’s inquiry explained: 

“Every effort should be made to have personnel working at quarantine facilities salaried employees with terms and conditions that address the possible need to self-isolate in the event of an infection or possible infection, or close contact exposure, together with all necessary supports, including the need to relocate if necessary and have a managed return to work,”

It is clear that combating casualisation and insecure work is an essential part of safeguarding public health. 

We Demand: 

  1. Fully paid specialist positions be created for the facilitation of quarantines. 
  2. All workers who are involved in any way with facilitating a quarantine:
    • Be fully paid without the need for a second job.
    • Be regularly tested for COVID-19.
    • Receive the highest quality personal protective equipment available.
    • Receive the necessary medical training to safely facilitate quarantine.