The issues currently plaguing the private security sector have been highlighted in Victoria with recent COVID-19 cluster outbreaks. With the industry well and truly in the spotlight now, it is important to understand that systemic problems including sham contracting have been ongoing for over 10 years. Hopefully these practices, which have decimated industry credibility will finally be addressed, or will they?
When the government, its departments, authorities, unions, and industry bodies turn a blind eye to what is happening in the real world of private security, the result is what we currently see: disaster. What governments and companies alike fail to identify, is the security officer who is protecting their assets is being paid $17 flat rate, no entitlements, no WorkCover, or superannuation. You may say: but that’s unlawful! Yes, so what? These practices have been ongoing for years, but no one seems to care. Inaction gives the perpetrators a license to continue these practices. Even if “caught” consequences are minimal (and may even be factored into their commercial pricing).
What’s the solution? Government and industry need to work together to abolish unlawful practices including sham contracting, making security companies and those who engage them accountable. Heavy penalties need to be enforced for those who choose to operate outside the law, including license cancellations for security companies and heavy fines for those who engage them. Customers will always demand security services at a low price, but if responsibility is placed back on organisations who engage security providers either knowingly or not, to compensate for underpayments then profiting from the vulnerable becomes less desirable.
We also need to educate people entering the industry, so advantage is not taken of them. Many new security guards are either new Australians or those that come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Both are vulnerable to exploitation. Scared of speaking out or joining a union for fear of losing their job, they generally accept the poor pay and conditions. Also, because of the low barriers to entry and general lack of accountability within the industry, there are those holding security licenses themselves who recruit these vulnerable people and exploit them for their own gain. They set up what I can only describe as recruiting Ponzi schemes. There are social media sites designated to support these practices, where no questions are asked: “there’s your uniform and off you go”. The exploited guard ends up being billeted out to the lowest bidder in most cases through two or three-tiered sham contracting arrangements.
Until the issues within the security industry are addressed including a greater emphasis placed on education of the workforce, greater barriers to entry, higher penalties imposed for those engaging in unlawful practices, then unfortunately we will continue to see the vulnerable taken advantage of and the industry’s continued demise.