Decent Work in security
Security workers help keep New Zealand’s people and property safe. During the COVID-19 crisis, security guards were frontline essential workers, ensuring people were protected, physical distancing was maintained, and that closed property was kept safe.
Their mahi has been recognised by the public, politicians, and media.
However, the way the industry is structured means that they were often exposed to unnecessary risk due to inadequate or non-existent PPE, they had work cancelled with little notice, and heavy demands were put on them to travel to other locations at short notice – with little information about what to expect when there.
In the meantime, New Zealand’s biggest security workforce, Ministry of Social Development guards, were experiencing stress due to not knowing whether they would have jobs to go, as their contract had been lost to another employer.
The crisis also exposed existing problems in the industry’s operating model. Security guards are contracted out to private security companies which compete with each other based on who can do the job for the cheapest price. This means that workers have limited power to win decent pay and conditions – there is always a threat of their employer losing the contract if they become too expensive. The short-term nature of contracting out means employers are reluctant to invest in staff training.
Security guards are essential workers and it’s essential that they are paid, trained, and given a voice that reflects their importance.
Solutions for the security industry
Security guards should be paid enough to live on. Core government and the wider state sector must ensure that their contracted workforce is paid no less than the Living Wage.
A Fair Pay Agreement
There needs to be an industry-wide Fair Pay Agreement covering all security services. This would enable workers to negotiate with the industry as a whole for decent wages and conditions above the legal minimum, establish standards around training and qualifications, and allow employers to compete on quality rather than price. This will stop the ‘race to the bottom’.
Security work does not have to be unsafe. WorkSafe should ensure an industry-wide Approved Code of Practice that ensures worker participation in consistent risk management structures. Clients need to be reminded of their duties under the Health and Safety Act to keep their workers safe. This includes the provision of PPE to contracted workers.
Security guards need to feel that their work is secure and that they will not lose conditions or hours if their company loses a contract to another company. Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act ensures that workers who are ‘transferred’ to another company to work on the same contract, transfer with the same terms and conditions if these are better than what is provided by the new company – but this legislation does not currently cover security guards. This kind of vulnerable worker protection needs to be extended to security guards.
Low wages are often linked to lack of qualifications among the workforce. The Government needs to ensure a tripartite system between education institutions, industry and union that allows the entire workforce to obtain NZQA Level 3 qualification in security in a timely fashion.
There needs to be a programme to elect and develop health and safety representatives from the security workforce, who have the confidence and capability to engage in participatory health and safety structures, both with their employers and clients.
There needs to be tripartite work on creating a career progression framework that allows workers to continue to develop and improve and identify opportunities to stay within the industry while improving themselves and their pay.
We can achieve Decent Work if the Government:
- starts by transforming their own spaces. Contract workers, like security guards, are the lowest paid people in the core public sector. If the Government is serious about reducing poverty and showing leadership, it needs to be paying them the Living Wage by the end of this term of Government.
- extends part 6A of the Employment Relations Act to cover security guards.
- passes Fair Pay Legislation within 100 days after the 2020 General Election. Fair Pay Agreements are well overdue in New Zealand. Some of the biggest contracting companies have said they would like to pay better wages but can’t afford to, as they’ll be undercut by exploitative employers. Fair Pay Agreements can be a solution to that.
- ensures a tripartite system between education institutions, industry and union that allows the entire workforce to obtain NZQA Level 3 qualification in security.
- mandates that WorkSafe ensure an industry wide Approved Code of Practice that ensures worker participation in consistent risk management structures.
We can achieve Decent Work if industry and businesses:
- publicly support a Fair Pay Agreement for the sector
- ensures the safety of their workforce
- pays a minimum of a Living Wage.
We can achieve Decent Work if local councils:
- adopt the Living Wage as part of better social procurement policies.