Paladin staff at Australian-funded immigration centres on Manus Island have walked off the job, claiming they have been underpaid and overworked.
The employees abandoned their posts on Tuesday, amid sustained scrutiny over Paladin’s $423 million contract with the federal government to deliver services to asylum seekers and refugees.
A petition circulated by Paladin staff claims they are being underpaid, denied overtime and risk allowances, adding that those who transitioned from the former security contractor had their wages cut.
The petition has demanded pay rises for all local staff, overtime for long shifts, and the provision of three meals a day.
“We are truly being underpaid and being overworked and not compensated fairly,” the Paladin workers said.
Photographs distributed by the Refugee Action Coalition advocacy group appeared to show security posts deserted across three compounds on Manus Island.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has continued to defend the contentious $423 million contract awarded to Paladin.
The little-known company, whose Australian arm was until recently registered to a beach shack on Kangaroo Island, was awarded the contract in 2017 through a closed tender process.
The prime minister was quick to point out Paladin was “quite a large” global company based in Singapore.
“I’ve been involved in having to put these sort of services in remote locations for a very long time and it is not a cheap exercise,” he told the ABC’s 7:30 program.
“That’s why you have to be so vigilant that you never allow this trade (people smuggling) to occur again.”
Mr Morrison said proper processes were followed in relation to the tender.
The prime minister also defended his intense focus on asylum seekers who arrive by boat, when thousands more people arrive by plane each year asking for Australia’s protection.
“People don’t die on planes. They die on boats,” he said.
For the past several weeks, the prime minister has accused Labor of weakening border security by making it easier for asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru to seek medical treatment in Australia.
Mr Morrison has accused the opposition of allowing rapists and murderers into the country, restarting the people smuggling trade, and wilfully destroying national security.
The immigration minister will still be able to block medical transfers on national security and character grounds, but these veto powers have been curtailed.