By Tom Buckley, Unite Assistant Secretary
The recent murderous attack on WINZ staff in Ashburton a has resulted in the beefing up of the presence of security guards at WINZ offices across the country.
But the guards expected to do this work are paid barely above the minimum wage and have no proper training and inadequate equipment for dealing with the often dangerous situations they face.
Unite has been actively organising the security industry for the last 9 years. The very nature of your job puts you in harms way, you are there to protect people and property.
This isn’t paranoia, security guards are regularly attacked while performing their duties. The guards are constantly aware of their vulnerability, whether they are guarding a train station, a construction site or outside a WINZ office.
Most industries that put workers in harms way acknowledge this risk with robust training & systems to ensure safety and are paid appropriately – but this isn’t the case in security. When I speak with employers in the security industry they all acknowledge that the work comes is dangerous. But they also tell me that if they provided that training, pay and equipment that they think their guards deserve they wouldn’t win any contracts.
This is the problem, security is almost completely unregulated – you require a licence but there is no code of practice to ensure the safety of staff. There is no minimum requirements for equipment. None of the security companies provide protective vests or communication equipment as of right. Guards are expected to provide their own mobile phones for emergencies.
This has a human cost, as we found out when Charanpreet Dhaliwal was murdered on a construction site in Waitakare. Mr Dhaliwal was left on his first day with only a hi-vis vest, a set of keys and a business card of his employer.
I’m told that almost all contracts that security companies bid for are decided on price. In the business of security price can be cut by paying employees less, cutting corners with equipment, training and support staff. This means that the cowboy running a security out of the boot of his car is the winner. These companies compete to win contracts by who can do it the cheapest – which leads to a end game of putting a warm body in a uniform and everybody hoping that nothing goes wrong.
But at the end of the day the risk isn’t to the security company or the business or people the guard protects. The risk belongs to a minimum wage worker standing trying to survive in a job which puts them in harms way day in day out.
There needs to be a change to this industry, to stop the race to the bottom of the barrel. Workers put in harms way have the right to know that they will receive proper training, proper working equipment, support for their welfare and a descent wage.
The only way this will happen is if there is legislation that ensures a minimum safety standard and best practice procedures on the security industry – and a union to enforce those standards.