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Security Guards are Fighting for Secure Jobs

Security guards are fighting back to fix their industry

Security guards are fighting back to fix their industry

2020 and 2021 haven’t been good years for anyone (except Jeff Bezos) but security guards have copped a pretty raw deal. It seemed that every failure of quarantine or logistics during the pandemic was blamed on workers, ignoring all the hard work and mostly successful containment of a pandemic that would have otherwise ravaged the community.

The workers doing the hard work will tell you that the real problems are not with individuals, but with an industry that is just throwing bodies at problems and into situations they aren’t equipped to deal with. Rather than being respected and protected, many face exploitation and scapegoating. 

“They want us to be quasi-doctors and nurses and maintenance workers and fire inspectors and property managers and all these other things,” said one security guard we spoke to, who chose to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of his work. 

“We can do a lot of things, but only given the right support and resources.

“It really damages the industry and our reputation when it goes wrong.”

This guard has been working in the industry for thirty years and has seen dramatic shifts over that time. He has seen the work devalued, giving rise to the use of subcontractors by clients who don’t understand the need for quality and expertise. 

“A lot of the time subcontractor staff aren’t trained, they aren’t given job descriptions, they aren’t given PPE, they work long hours. I know some that have worked 18-20 hour shifts. It makes all of us look bad, but it isn’t the fault of workers at all. 

“If you're going to give out big contracts, don’t use subcontractors. Commit to your normal workforce that has the experience. You make sure they’re fully trained, they’re qualified, they’ve got a clear job description, clear post orders, the right PPE, and you rotate them, keeping them fresh and alert.”

These widespread issues in the security industry have prompted an outcry from workers, who are fighting back not just for their own jobs, but to fix a sector engaged in a race to the bottom on standards and practices. 

The Safeguard Campaign

The United Workers Union has this week launched the Safeguard campaign. Both an EBA campaign and a standard to be met by procurement contracts and legislation, Safeguard has five key demands:

  • Job Security

  • Liveable Wages

  • Respect

  • Career and Skill Development

  • Safe Workplaces

The first target is the Victorian Government. United Workers Union members are demanding that the Victorian Government ban dodgy subcontracting as part of the Government’s response to the Review of Victoria’s Private Security Industry. 

The Victorian Government spends an estimated $134 million on security contracts across State buildings and services. There are currently no guidelines around employment practices attached to this money.

In one prominent case that is being pursued as a class action by the union, Southern Cross Security has been paying their security guards significantly under the Award rate under their new contract for Holmesglen TAFE’s three campuses.

Holmesglen TAFE awarded its $4.5 million dollar security contract to Southern Cross Security despite NSW police investigations uncovering unlawful practices by the company prior to the start of the contract.

Cases like these are why the Government must be the first to act and say that contractors engaging in dodgy practices and racing to the bottom will not be entrusted with public money. Companies who do the right thing by workers and the community should be rewarded, and this means signing on to the principles of the Safeguard campaign. 

Stopping the Race to the Bottom

Mohammed Elmoge is a guard working under a State Government contract on a Collingwood housing estate. He is also a resident of the public housing towers in Carlton that form part of the same contract. For him, the government’s procurement policies don’t add up. 

“What makes me really angry is that there are people doing a similar role to us that are employed directly by the Department who are paid much better. Why do we have to survive on peanut wages? 

“It makes it really hard to deal with stress, because I always worry about buying the things my kids need.”

Security guards’ wages are often whittled down every time a contract is put out for tender and the undercutting of costs is rewarded. 

Workers like Mohammed who sit on the Award (the minimum wages and conditions for the industry), struggle to make ends meet. Many guards aren’t even paid according to the Award, with dodgy employers failing to comply deliberately. According to UWU research, over 50% of Victorian guards surveyed in 2019 have experienced wage theft. One third have had their superannuation stolen. 

“I’m more than happy for a company to make profits off my labour, I just don’t want them to make it off my wages,” said Robert Staines, a veteran security guard and UWU member. 

The moment to fix these widespread problems is now. Safeguard is launching all around Australia and has already seen a great deal of momentum. Several UWU security guards met with members of parliament this week via Zoom, and the social media campaign is seeing guards voice the things they feel most strongly about.

“There’s a real opportunity at the moment to go forward,” said our anonymous guard. 

“We can come out of this stronger and bigger, post-COVID. We can learn from the bad lessons of the last year. Guards are held in pretty low esteem at the moment, unfortunately, but we’re going to change that with the start of the Safeguard campaign.”

Want to get involved in the Safeguard campaign in your workplace? Security guards are encouraged to contact their UWU organiser for more info. For more info (and to join up!) go to www.unitedworkers.org.au/join

2020 and 2021 haven’t been good years for anyone (except Jeff Bezos) but security guards have copped a pretty raw deal. It seemed that every failure of quarantine or logistics during the pandemic was blamed on workers, ignoring all the hard work and mostly successful containment of a pandemic that would have otherwise ravaged the community.

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