Gallery Heist: NGV guards rally, demanding $3mil in stolen wages

Dozens of United Voice security union members will rally today outside the National Gallery of Victoria - International to demand that its disgraced contractor Business Risks International (BRI) repay as much as $3mil in stolen wages.

Earlier this month BRI Security was exposed in the media for underpaying gallery guards by almost $20 an hour in some cases.

Guards report being hired by BRI and then transferred to fly-by-night subcontractors NSG and Java who underpay guards, and in some cases paid guards cash-in-hand. Some guards caught up in this racket are recent refugees.

An analysis by United Voice lawyers of a roster at a BRI subcontractor revealed an average underpayment of $14,272.96 per year. United Voice believes that 100 of NGV’s 150 guards were engaged via subcontractors and the collective underpayment could total as much as $3mil since BRI took over in April 2015.

The Victorian Government reacted to the scandal by appointing auditing firm KPMG to investigate, and has said it may refer BRI allegations to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Belinda Panalou, a NGV guard who underpaid then sacked after speaking out, told the ABC that working at Victoria’s world-renowned gallery was like “an illegal sweatshop.”

"I can't even walk into the NGV anymore … it's lost its reputation for me and I consider it now to be like an illegal sweatshop," said Ms Panalou.

Jess Walsh, Victorian Secretary of United Voice, the Security Union, said the wage theft scandal shamed our state.

“Victorians should be appalled by these revelations. They bring shame on this state and our most prestigious cultural institution.”

“BRI and their dodgy subcontractors have stolen millions of dollars in unpaid wages from our members and their families. Today, we are saying we want it back. Now.”

“The State Government needs to step in now and fix this. They need to terminate BRI’s contract and send a strong message they won’t tolerate wage theft. Not here. Not anywhere.”

Subcontracting in the security industry is out of control. A union survey conducted recently revealed 56% of respondents stated that subcontracting was happening at their workplace.

"We see subcontracting happening almost everywhere in the security industry at the moment; and subcontracting usually is part of a deliberate strategy to sidestep basic Award standards like minimum rates of pay and other entitlements," Ms Walsh said.

"Clearly there needs to be much stronger standards in the way the State Government awards its contracts, so this systemic wage theft can never happen again. It needs to have see a zero tolerance policy when it comes to wage theft.”

BRI is contracted to guard other well-known public institutions, including the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Australia Council, Public Record Office of Victoria and La Trobe University.

Media contact: Tim Petterson, United Voice Victoria Communications Director 0438 399 973