Hundreds of hotel quarantine staff paid millions while sitting idle

The Victorian government has, since February, paid as many as 550 hotel quarantine workers their full salary of at least $75,000 a year, despite them not working a single day on site.

The government has also contracted hotels into the quarantine program and paid them millions for the service before cutting them out of the scheme without the sites hosting a single guest.

Hundreds of hotel quarantine employees have received payment in full despite not working in hotels.Credit:Joe Armao

With several Melbourne quarantine hotels not receiving returned travellers as the government works to improve their ventilation, about 200 staff are on “standby” awaiting their reopening, which for most hotels will not occur until next month.

A further 280 employees have been idle since February but are scheduled to return to work at the Stamford Hotel in the CBD when it reopens to travellers later this week, a spokeswoman for COVID Quarantine Victoria (CQV) confirmed.

About 60 workers are receiving full salaries to act as back-up staff in case a team must be pulled out of a hotel, such as if an outbreak occurs.

Government jobs in hotel quarantine range from administrative to clinical care roles, with workers paid annual salaries starting from about $75,000 to $120,000 and above.

The Stamford is set to reopen this week.Credit:Getty Images

The hundreds of employees have remained on the government’s books since Premier Daniel Andrews paused the hotel quarantine program on February 13 after an outbreak linked to the Holiday Inn that triggered a five-day lockdown.

The scheme resumed on April 8 and two new cases detected in hotel quarantine on Thursday took the total to 19 active infections.

The CQV spokeswoman said it was “essential that CQV has an experienced and trained workforce ready to start work as more hotels come online”.

“This has always been the case throughout the pandemic and is still in effect as the final hotels complete their ventilation assessments and remedial works,” she said, adding that staff made a “valuable contribution” when not in hotels through tasks such as extra training.

The policy of keeping workers employed full-time and assigned to one site was adopted after a review of the government’s hotel quarantine program was scathing of its decision to employ private security guards without adequate training in infection control.

Several of those workers contracted COVID-19 then spread it into the community in May and June, leading to millions of people enduring months of lockdown to stem the spread of the virus.

Confirmation of the payments to stood-down quarantine workers came a day after the revelation that the manager and head of infection control at Novotel Melbourne Central, a newly recruited quarantine hotel, had both been fired following 51 incident reports on their watch in the first four weeks of its operation.

Before that, the quarantine scheme’s overall head of infection control, Matiu Bush, was stood down on Wednesday for refusing a COVID-19 test at one site and on another occasion not putting on a new mask when re-entering a hotel that was not hosting any guests.

Former Corrections Commissioner Emma Cassar has been in charge of hotel quarantine since it opened for a second time in December.Credit:Penny Stephens

“I have no confidence in Emma Cassar and I don’t think any Victorians would have any confidence,” he said.

“She’s more interested acting as a spin doctor protecting the Labor government than she is actually delivering safe outcomes. Seriously, there have been so many stuff-ups in hotel quarantine under [CGV’s] governance.”

Later on Thursday Mr O’Brien used question time to ask acting Police Minister Danny Pearson, the minister in charge of hotel quarantine, why Bush was only stood down on Wednesday once media reports of his transgressions emerged. The incident reports were first lodged internally in CQV in March and April.

“Isn’t it a fact that if the media had not revealed … Bush’s flagrant disregard for the rules that apply, [they] would still be in charge of infection control in Victoria’s hotel quarantine program?”

Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said there had been ‘so many stuff-ups’ in hotel quarantine in recent months.Credit:Justin McManus

Mr Pearson responded that “all processes have been followed”, Bush was counselled at the time and had since been stood down pending a review.

Acting Premier James Merlino said he had confidence in Ms Cassar and the high number of incident reports at the Novotel were a sign of the “if you see something, say something” culture working correctly.

“She’s doing an incredible job,” he said of Ms Cassar.

”This is a very difficult environment. Hotel quarantine, thousands of workers, we’ve got very strict protocols in place.

“Any breach, any mistake, anyone doing the wrong thing, it’s immediately reported and actioned.”

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