This column is addressed to those who hire security guards. The conduct of security guards at two quarantine hotels in Melbourne has put the security sector in the news, again. Not for the ‘wrong reasons’ as, if the accusations are correct, then the issues need to be publicised. There are suggestions that most of the COVID19 cases in Victoria can be traced back to those two hotels and the failure to control the spread of the virus due to alleged poor services by the contracted guards. What are the responsibilities of those who procurer security services, i.e. ‘us’, the senior managers?
Without wishing to pre-empt the deliberations and findings of the formal inquiry into the effectiveness of the quarantine at the two hotels, several observations need to be re-iterated, particularly to those who contract in security services.
We engage security guards to protect our people, assets and functions. We expect the guards, rightly or wrongly, to identify the hazard and to take action to reduce it. For this, we pay them less than just about anyone else in the building. ‘If’ they are being paid correctly, they are usually on minimum award wages and are often required to pay for their uniforms and take unpaid meal breaks.
If media reports are to be believed, the specific contracts for the Melbourne hotels in question offered a very high hourly rate – to the Prime contractors. Sub-contracting was only permitted with client approval, and apparently, it occurred in a cascading fashion. By the time the work is sub-sub-contracted, with each level taking their cut, the person doing the work is not left with much. There is little incentive to undertake the work, and it should be no surprise that security is seen as an entry-level job until something better comes along, such as driving a taxi.
The major security companies appear to be operating on a minuscule margin based on little profit over many hours. A well-paying contract allows for more substantial profits, particularly if the work can be transferred to smaller companies that might be willing to work for the lowest rates. This was highlighted in a report by the NSW Fair Work Ombudsman two years ago into the procurement of security services by local government that showed, due to multiple sub-contracting to smaller and smaller companies, many guards were paid below award wages.
If we want people to protect us, we must be willing to pay more than peanuts. There are rules regarding the amount guards must be paid. It is up to clients and compliance agencies to ensure these requirements are met and that the contracts, and sub-contracts, cover the minimum costs of doing business.
We know what the award rates are, we have some idea of business costs and what is a workable margin; therefore, we should know if a deal is too good to be true. We also have a responsibility, both moral as well as legal, to ensure that those who are working for us are being paid the award rate at a bare minimum.
One element the jurisdictions’ disparate security licencing requirements have in common is the need for a security guard to have, as a minimum, a Certificate II in Security Operations. It is the responsibility of the licencing authority to confirm this.
The value and effectiveness of security guard training has been reviewed as has that for hairdressers and others where a high turnover is sometimes seen as a cash cow.
The content, training requirements and time taken to deliver a course are dictated by the Commonwealth Department of Education and the responsibility of ensuring appropriate training falls to all jurisdictions. If guards are poorly trained, then why is it so?
The need for site and task-specific training is determined by the client and agreed with the provider. If no specifics are given, then the provider will deliver the basic services with no particular consideration of the client’s particular operating and built environments.
Those clients who have invested in site-specific familiarisation and training report improved capability.
You can not expect a provider to deliver site-specific protective services without additional guidance, training and funding. As the client, it is to our benefit to ensure that the people doing the job have the training, skills, equipment, language and capability to do it safely and correctly. We have an obligation to make sure we are getting what we are paying for.
There are three levels of management required. The client (that is us) needs to manage the contract. It is not appropriate to think that once the contract is signed, the site is secure. The client needs to ensure: the services are being delivered, that the quality provides value for money, and all the contracted elements are being met including qualified personnel, reporting, invoicing, insurances, etc.
The provider needs to ensure that the contracted services are being provided as, where and when required and expected. For complex sites, it may be necessary to employ one or more supervisors. The cost of supervisors to ensure effective behaviour and service delivery is part of the cost of the contract.
The role of the private security sector in protecting the safety and security of the nation was never more evident than in the quarantine hotels. If the private security sector is being used as an element of national security, then there is a requirement for the Commonwealth government to manage the requirements and the capability to deliver.
Each jurisdiction has different criteria for who can conduct security tasks. There is no agreement on terminology, ‘fit and proper’ person tests or even which department is responsible for security licencing. In 2018 the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and a decade before that the Council of Australian Governments, recommended a national licencing system with common standards.
As the contracting entity we have a duty to ensure the services are as per the stated requirements, and if that does not meet our needs to revise the requirement – probably with additional costs to match the additional protection.
To summarise – again
Being asked to trim the cost of hiring security services does not permit approving contracts that result in people being paid below award rates, not having site-specific training, not being properly equipped and not being able to do the job and therefore not protecting the site, or in this case the State and the Nation.
As has been said many times before: don’t pay minimum rate and expect high-quality service; ensure appropriate general and site-specific training is provided, and manage the delivery of the contracted service from the local to the national levels.
The responsibility for having a secure environment rests with those who procure the services to ensure those delivering it are doing so correctly.
Don Williams CPP ASecM is a recognised thought leader in security and related disciplines. Don can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .