The manager of a hotel where most of Victoria’s current coronavirus cases can be traced back to has admitted security guards “harassed” female staff members.
Rydges on Swanston general manager Rosswyn Menezes told Melbourne’s hotel quarantine inquiry on Friday he was aware of inappropriate behaviour by security guards on May 10.
“Some security guards were harassing a few of my female staff members by passing certain comments and a few words,” he said.
Mr Menezes said he passed “an email from one of my colleagues” onto representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.
He went on to say the individual security guards were then stood down and later terminated.
It comes after disturbing revelations emerged during a hearing on Thursday that a security guard at the Crowne Plaza hotel slipped a note under a guest’s door which said: “Hey hun, add me on Snapchat”.
The incident led top bureaucrats to contemplate ceasing to use private firm Wilson Security, according to an email chain tendered to the inquiry.
Outbreaks at Rydges on Swanston in May are thought to be responsible for 90 per cent of the state’s current coronavirus cases.
From April 27, it became a “COVID hotel” and hosted returned travellers diagnosed with coronavirus.
Almost 90 per cent of the 350 quarantined guests had the virus.
70 GUARDS GATHERED IN ONE ROOM
About 70 security guards blatantly breached social distancing and gathered in the same room during a changeover of shifts at the Stamford Plaza Hotel, Friday’s inquiry heard.
Assisting counsellor at Friday’s hearing, Tony Neal, referenced minutes of a meeting where a number of health and safety issues were documented at the hotel in Melbourne’s CBD.
“Approximately 70 guards had a handover in one room and there was no social distancing when saying goodbye at this change of shifts,” he read out.
When questioned about the matter, the hotel’s general manager Karl Unterfrauner said he had not witnessed it due to being in self-isolation at the time, but confirmed the incident involving the MSS Security guards occurred a day before an outbreak in the hotel.
Issues about guards not wearing gloves when handling guests’ luggage was also revealed.
When asked about how the hotel quarantine program could be improved, Mr Unterfrauner cited communication.
“The program now is much more refined than it was two or three months ago,” he said.
“The communication process should have a singular point of contact to make communication more streamlined – under the Department of Corrections this has been something they really developed.”
A total of 913 guests went through quarantine at the Stamford Plaza Hotel, with 20 testing positive for coronavirus.
HOTEL GUARDS STOLE GUEST TOWELS FOR NAPS
Quarantine security guards stole towels – meant for detained guests – and used them as pillows while they napped on the floors of hotel corridors, an inquiry has heard.
Crown executive general manager Shaun D’Cruz told the inquiry security staff had gone into the back-of-house where linen was stored and “noticed someone had come into and used the towels”.
When questioned by the inquiry’s assisting counsellor Rachel Ellyard if the towels were being used by security guards as pillows to take naps in the corridors, Mr D’Cruz replied: “Yes, it appears so.
“They were not permitted to go into that area – that was another reason as to why I specifically brought that up because that’s something they were not supposed to do at all.”
Mr D’Cruz told the inquiry he had also noticed evidence of smoking in the hotel’s fire stairwells on vacated floors, as well as security guards “congregating” and breaching social distancing.
“There had been evidence of smoking in the fire stairwells and that a chair and wall furniture had been damaged,” he said.
“In regards to the using of facilities we provided in the way of parking … there was a report about congregating in the driveway, which seemed to breach social distancing rules. That was brought to my attention by surveillance teams – that was also reported.”
Four Points by Sheraton general manager Stephen Ferrigno also told the inquiry he was concerned with the “diligence with which the security guards were performing their task”.
“They spent a lot of time watching content on their telephones, having conversations on their mobile – just generally in a fairly passive mode – sitting down for hours at a time,” he said.
Mr Ferrigno then gave evidence of an incident on June 25 where a hotel guest wandered through the site unsupervised.
“I was sitting in the rest room having a hotel briefing with two senior managers when I observed a person walking across the lobby … he had no shoes, jeans and a T-shirt and a mask covering his mouth, not nose.”
Mr Ferrigno said he told the guest to go back to his room, which he refused, until a security guard then escorted the guest back upstairs.
“I had access to CCTV which clearly shows the individual exiting his room, to progress to the lift – the guard is not wearing a mask and looking at his phone, he seems engaged in this process. The lift then arrives and the guest enters and at that point CCTV shows the guard looking up as the doors close.”
Mr Ferrigno said he escalated the incident to the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions site manager, who “referred us back to the security guard site supervisor and didn’t do anything with this information”.
Mr Ferrigno then alerted Victoria Police and escalated the incident to the Department of Health and Human Services and “other government departments “to highlight my concerns”, to which he received “no response”.
ILL-EQUIPPED TO FEED GUESTS
One quarantine hotel was severely ill-equipped to feed big numbers of overseas travellers, with “little information” about dietary requirements handed over at check-in.
TravelLodge Docklands general manager Ram Mandyam said he was “shocked” to discover the first busloads of passengers from a South American flight on April 10 “hadn’t been fed for hours”.
He then had “no prior notice” on dietary requirements when staff handed over room keys to the guests.
“TravelLodge is a limited service hotel – we provide comfortable accommodation and a healthy breakfast – we do not have a fully-equipped kitchen, we don’t have a bar or restaurant,” Mr Mandyam said.
“What we were trying to achieve during a span of 14 days was catering close to 1000 meals a day with 100 various dietary requirements. This put a fair bit of strain in dealing with this process in an orderly fashion.
“As we did not have prior notice what guests’ dietary requirements were in the initial few days of the program, it made those few days very challenging in general to deal with.”
Mr Mandyam said it was a “huge disappointment” for guests.
“Mainly because they felt they weren’t given a choice, they were detained and weren’t given a choice to get out of their room, they had no choice to have food of their liking – it’s fair to say we had young children or toddlers who we couldn’t always cater to given the circumstances.”
The inquiry continues next week.
Staff from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, who established the hotel quarantine program, gave evidence at the inquiry on Thursday.
Victoria recorded 113 new coronavirus cases overnight and 12 more deaths on Friday.