Security giant G4S Australia and the Australian government failed to provide a former manager at the Manus Island detention centre with a safe workplace or protect him from harm, and also misrepresented working conditions at the centre, a case filed to Victoria’s supreme court alleges.
The plaintiff, Roderick St George, said a national recruitment manager for G4S who called him in January 2013 told him the centre comprised of approximately 130 women and children who were “in good spirits”. Based on those claims, St George quit his job as an English teacher and relocated to Manus Island to work as the centre’s occupational health and safety manager.
Upon his arrival on the island he discovered the centre also housed about 150 single adult male detainees.
“Many of the male detainees at the centre were not in good spirits and some were predisposed to inflicting physical violence on themselves, on each other and on staff at the centre,” a statement of claim filed to the court states.
The claim states the commonwealth government and G4S had a duty of care to provide St George with a safe workplace, and should not have exposed him to a foreseeable risk of psychiatric injury.
But this duty of care was allegedly breached because there was inadequate security at the centre to protect staff from violence by detainees, who had rioted in the weeks before St George’s arrival. Medical facilities and staff at the centre were inadequate to treat detainees, including some who had attempted to kill or harm themselves. The centre did not have sufficient running water or a reliable electricity supply, and mould had formed on the centre walls, it is alleged.
Had these issues been disclosed to St George he “would not have entered into the employment agreement and would not have relocated to Manus Island”, the statement of claim says. He was allegedly “required to work in unsafe and excessively stressful conditions which included exposure to threatened and actual violence from detainees at the centre”.
St George was alleged to have been required to take on a “manifestly excessive workload” in addition to his occupational health and safety manager duties, including taking on the roles of quality assurance and compliance manger and risk assessment and intelligence manager.
“The plaintiff was responsible for health and safety in the centre in circumstances in which the centre’s facilities were unsanitary and there was insufficient power or running water,” the claim states.
On 12 April 2013 male detainees rioted and physically attacked centre staff including St George, and the unpredictable and violent behaviour of some men in detention caused him to fear for his life.
The riot occurred amid a period of heightened tension, with almost daily incidents, internal reports obtained by Guardian Australia at the time revealed. The reports included multiple incidents of self-harm, suicide attempts, riots and demonstrations, mass hunger strikes and escapes over a four-month period from January to April 2013.
One incident detailed Papua New Guinea paramilitary officers storming the centre to demand payment, while another described a G4S officer kicking and punching a detainee.
The centre, along with a sister facility on Nauru, were reopened as offshore immigration detention centres by a Labor government.
By December 2013 there were more than 1,230 people on Manus Island, more than 800 on Nauru and more than 2,200 on Christmas Island.
Following the riot and his employment, St George claims he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and abused alcohol.
G4S failed to train St George to deal with the circumstances in the centre, misrepresented the workplace to him and failed to provide him with a security briefing, it is alleged. The Australian government allegedly failed to ensure the centre had adequate security to protect staff, failed to provide adequate medical facilities and failed to ensure the centre had amenities like running water and electricity.
The Australian government also allegedly required G4S to “employ PNG nationals as security guards when it knew or ought to have known they were ill-equipped to perform security work” and failed to implement adequate emergency procedures for staff to follow when detainees rioted.
St George’s annual salary was $160,181 and he received a bonus payment of $12,000. The statement of claim states St George has “been totally incapacitated for employment since 19 April 2013 and his earning capacity has been destroyed”.
St George is claiming past and future loss of earnings together with superannuation.
Guardian Australia has contacted G4S and the immigration minister, David Coleman, for comment.