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Sacrifice in the name of service: leaving home and family to serve in lockdown

Imagine working in another continent, thousands of miles from your home and family, and then being told you cannot leave, not even for the birth or the death of a loved one. That was the situation facing thousands of our colleagues in the Middle East, many of whom are guests in the region, during Covid-19.  

Disruption hit colleagues differently. More than 200 of our Serco Middle East colleagues, who had been travelling, found themselves stranded on the wrong side of borders – far from their teams or anyone they knew. The shutting down of borders across the Middle East created enormous challenges for our people throughout the region. 

Our response was swift and comprehensive. A team was set up to make contact with all displaced colleagues during the lockdown – making more than 800 calls in the first week alone – to find out how they were and what they needed, for themselves and for their families. Through significant efforts, everyone stayed connected, informed and safe. Regular ‘virtual wellbeing events’ and a raft of other wellness resources were introduced, and we launched a new Employee Assistance Programme across the Division, expanding support to include mental health. 

While we worked to support displaced colleagues, 15 miles from our Divisional headquarters in Dubai another Serco team left their homes voluntarily to ensure continuity of service for our customer, the Australian Defence Force (ADF). 

At the ADF main Middle East Logistics Base, Serco Middle East Logistics and Base Support Services (MELABS) serve the 800-plus personnel stationed there. When the facility locked down, more than 60 of our MELABS colleagues offered to move onsite. 

Colin Paterson, Catering Manager, is among those on the base and couldn’t be prouder of his colleagues: 

“They were willing to sacrifice everything to support our customers and the ADF personnel who rely on them. One of our chefs still hasn’t met his baby daughter. Our work is extremely important to those we serve – making life on the base easier and more pleasurable. Many tell us it’s the best catering they’ve had in all their military service. Now especially, the smiles and gratitude we receive have been overwhelming.” 

The team have grown much closer, working together to overcome some very tough challenges: 

“Self-isolation requirements at the beginning cost us two-thirds of the team. But we still had multiple meals to serve every day and night, and high standards to maintain. It was exhausting, but everyone rallied, pulling 12-hour catering shifts without complaint.” 

To help the team cope with their new lives on the base, Serco and the ADF have made sure they are well fed and keeping fit, providing everyone with access to leisure equipment and facilities. 

“Everyone is helping us and looking after us,” says Renjith Johnny, Sous Chef. “All levels of management are giving as much support as they can. The base commander has thanked us in person, and we’ve received many other gestures of appreciation. It’s hard, especially because we have lives outside to manage as well, but we’re happy to be doing it. I am very proud to work with this team for our customer at this time.” 

Phil Malem, Divisional Chief Executive for Serco Middle East, said: “We have focused on putting our people first because we know we can rely on them to put our customers first. The hardships they have endured are testament to their commitment to the communities we serve, whilst the outpouring of support for colleagues across our business reinforces what we have always known to be true: we are more than a team, we are a family. Together, there is no challenge we cannot overcome.”