With the attention being drawn to the shambles around the security of quarantined travellers in hotels in Melbourne (and the subsequent terrible impact it has had on the state and Australia), it is time to examine what could be improved in the security industry.

By and large, the security industry is staffed by people who try hard to fulfil the requirements of the role as stipulated by the customer.   The problem largely comes, however – as it does everywhere – when customers drive the price down in an attempt to get ‘value for money’.   The customer does not see the value in paying more for a security service than they need to, and therefore go for the cheapest option, not realising the impact of that decision.

What can happen if you take the cheapest quote?

The companies (to call them that loosely), who operate at the cheaper end of the scale, do so by flouting the law.  They very often pay the guards cash, don’t insist on guards being licensed, might use sham contracting, don’t require good industry practice and generally provide a service for customers who just want a box ticked.  

The effect of this is:

 

  • Guards are poorly paid – which results in a lack of care, lack of responsibility and often turning a blind eye to issues which they should be reporting because they feel that it is not worth their trouble – sounds like Melbourne??
  • Guards are not covered by workers compensation insurance.  These companies will have a very basic cover for a small number of people so they can provide a certificate of currency, but in effect the guards who are being paid cash are not covered and are at risk if they get injured.  The customer is therefore also at risk of being held jointly liable in the event of a serious injury.
  • The company is not covered by public liability insurance – which means that the customer is also exposed in the event of an issue
  • Guards are often not uniformed and present a poor image of your site and business
  • Guards may have poor communication skills – and are therefore reluctant to report any issue or may misunderstand instructions given to them
  • Guards may not stay on your site
  • Guards might sleep on the job

Subcontracting

Many of the complaints arising in Melbourne and endemic in the security industry are due to the practice of subcontracting down several times.   As has been discussed recently in the press, the guards in the hotels were from companies who were subcontracted by the head contractors.   The guards actually working on site were not given clear instructions, were not given adequate training, had little idea why they were there and the importance of the role and almost no personal protective equipment like masks, gloves etc. They were also poorly paid and paid well below the award rate.  These guards demonstrated what we could expect – a lack of responsibility.

Recommendations

  1. Customers need to take more of an active role in holding security companies accountable.  There are already laws in place but these are regularly flouted with the knowledge of the customer.  
  2. Subcontracting to other companies without the consent of the customer should be prohibited
  3. The already existing security laws need to be enforced to reduce sham contracting, to deter unlicensed guards from working and to ensure guards are properly paid
  4. The various state police security licensing divisions need to enforce compliance.  Of course this will entail a growth in their budget but overall that is a small price to pay compared to the cost of allowing the industry to operate unchecked – as it largely is now.

It is relatively easy to fix but requires some will and a joint effort across the states.  If we all don’t improve, the danger is that you will continue to get what you pay for.   As a country, we are now paying.