Questioning the Serco allure

We read staff of British multinational Serco are suing for excessive suffering in Australia:

The federal government is facing a new multi-million-dollar litigation threat from dozens of ex-detention centre officers, citing psychiatric harm suffered at the centres.

University of NSW psychiatry expert Dr Zachary Steel said several such cases were pending in courts around the country.

The cases, many worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, are being pursued against both the federal government and past and present private sector detention centre operators, including G4S and Serco.

Dr Steel said the cases arose from workers’ compensation claims and “the psychological damage that happened to them as a result of their experience in detention centres”.

The news comes a day after The Daily Telegraph revealed multi-million-dollar legal action by ex-asylum seekers against the government and detention centre operators.

Department of Immigration and G4S spokespeople said they would not comment on cases that may come before the courts, while a spokeswoman for Serco was unaware of cases: “Our priority is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our employees and those in their care.”Former Woomera detention centre GP Dr Simon Lockwood said he knew of several cases of former guards suing the government.

The blight of privatisation is that individuals are often expendable; the profit motive is paramount. And Serco’s record across the world is a troubled one.

This past weekend we read the following:

Serco Australia has signed a multi-billion dollar 20-year contract with the State Government which will see non-clinical services at the new Fiona Stanley Hospital come under the control of the private company.

Better known in Australia for running detention centres as well as operating services in WA in transport, defence, justice and immigration, Serco will run 28 services at Fiona Stanley – from fleet management to waste disposal, reception, pest control, linen, grounds maintenance and cleaning.

The State Government argues it will make significant savings by privatising services at Fiona Stanley.

But the contract will anger trade unions and the State Opposition which have argued for months that the plan will spell bad news for workers and patients.

Serco provides support services for five major hospitals in the United Kingdom, with the State Government arguing that many of these facilities were visited by WA health experts as part of them procurement process.

But United Voice state secretary Dave Kelly is claiming Serco’s record of running hospitals in the UK was cause for concern.

In May this year, Mr Kelly released a statement saying a recent independent UK investigation into Serco’s Wishaw General Hospital revealed six out of eight wards failed to meet hygiene standards.

He also argues that the privatisation deal breaches the current wages agreement, which includes a no privatisation clause.

The $2 billion Fiona Stanley is due to open mid 2014.

Many Royal Perth Hospital workers went on strike when the news was announced:

Union Secretary Dave Kelly told the meeting the government had negotiated the Serco deal without transparency and behind closed doors.

“Serco are a big company who are expert at one thing and that’s how to make a profit out of taxpayers’ money.”
He said the company had “made a hash of” Australian immigration detention centres that it managed and “made a fortune” in the process.

Even the West Australian’s Sunday Times ran a story questioning the unhealthy amount of assets now owned by Serco in Australia and beyond:

But the scale of the company is what worries most. Serco Australia is owned by one of London’s biggest companies, Serco Group, which has been listed on the London Stock Exchange since May 1988 and is a member of the FTSE 100.

Serco Group is now estimated to be worth about $4 billion. The company unashamedly flaunts its operations in Europe, the Middle East, Asia Pacific and North America. True to its global scale, Serco recently bought Intelenet, a business process outsourcing services company in India, which delivers services to seven countries and has more than 32,000 employees, for about $593 million.

And if you’ve ever taken the Indian Pacific, The Ghan or The Overland trains you’ve travelled Serco Asia Pacific-style.

According to its latest report to shareholders, the company expects revenue to reach $7.4 billion by the end of 2012.

Its latest contracts are a $50 million two-year contract with the Australian Defence Force and a $100 million five-year contract to manage a Queensland correctional centre.

Australian citizens have a right to ask why so many governments, of both political stripes, love Serco so much. It has little to do with the ability of the company to deliver services. Privatisation as a state religion allows ministers and officials to delegate responsibility to others, ideally those in the private sector with far less public accountability. But it’s our tax dollars paying for the privilege.