Does the UK security industry need wage regulation? by Tony O’Brien

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In Ireland we will soon have our third employment regulatory order signed into law for the security industry. An employment regulatory order (ERO) is essentially a piece of regulation which sits under an Act and is legally binding and enforceable. It sets out the minimum rates of pay and working conditions for sectors. I’m not saying that we have it perfect. We are a long way from perfect, but we are better off as an industry than we were before we had an ERO. The ERO has given many security operatives the freedom to make a living purely from security without being forced to have second incomes or leaving them further open to corruption or malpractice to make ends meet. In this article I’ll go through both the pro’s and cons of the system and let the UK security professionals decide if they see a benefit for their industry.

Why do we have it?

The government decided long ago that certain industries (security, cleaning and formerly catering) which were traditionally low paid but carried additional costs of entry and additional risk should be paid a minimum rate to stop the quality of these services falling below an acceptable standard. That’s the genesis of the system. While these services are acknowledged as low skilled or semi-skilled they are also acknowledged as being essential to functioning services across society. ERO’s were brought in to support this and ensure that there was continued supply of workers into these services due to the reward of increased pay with potentially higher skilled workers being attracted over time. Some of the ERO’s have been challenged by employers as being unconstitutional and anti-competitive but thus far they remain. This year there was a review of the ERO and despite an ongoing pandemic and strong lobbying from employer groups the Labour Court decided that an increased ERO was both necessary and in the best interest of the sector.

What’s in it

I’ll give a very quick high-level overview of what’s in the ERO here. Firstly, and most importantly are wage rates. The minimum wage rate to enter the security industry as a security officer in Ireland is currently €11.65 (£9.92) per hour which will rise to €12.05 (£10.26) in June 2021 and again for the next 2 years topping out at €12.90 (£10.98) in 2023 when the ERO will be reviewed again.

Overtime rates apply over 48 hours at a 1.5 rate (can be averaged over 6 weeks roster cycle)

There will be a new unsocial hour’s premium for night workers of €8.40 (£7.15) per shift worked. This will be mandatory from next year.

There is a mandatory personal attack benefit paid to officers of up to 10 weeks paid leave if attacked and injured at work.

There is also a mandatory sick pay scheme (to work alongside government benefits) and mandatory death in service payment.

Bear in mind we also don’t have self employed or sole trader security operatives over here. They are not allowed due to mandatory company licencing which would require a sole trader to become a security company at a lot of expense.

Positives

The obvious benefits lie in increased income for the industry and increased job security. That can only be a positive. The ERO maintains the security industry minimum pay rates at 17% above minimum wage although is it still slightly behind the living wage over here.

The ERO makes the security industry a more competitive industry against others in attracting entry level talent. The average entrant to the security sector is a low or semi-skilled worker and we have traditionally competed with sectors such as retail and hospitality for recruitment.

An increased wage rate can go some way to offsetting the cost of entry (training and licencing) and any upskilling required to maintain licencing.

Negatives

An ERO undoubtedly benefits larger suppliers who can reap the rewards from economy of scale. Many small security providers argue that they can no longer compete with larger competitors on price due to the ERO. My opinion on this is that smaller providers shouldn’t be trying to compete on price. It’s a losing business strategy to start with.

A further issue is that since the introduction of the ERO the minimum has become the standard. Most employers advertise at the entry rate and quote their customers based on that rate so it reduces the ability to raise wage rates of experienced or top performing individuals over time.

Summary

I’m not saying that mandatory wage rates are right for the UK industry. In a lot of ways, it’s not my place to say it. I don’t work in your industry, but I do see many parallels between the UK and Ireland. If we want a better industry, then we have to have an environment where we can compete with other sectors and where a person can make a living to support themselves and their family. This is just food for thought on how an industry might begin that journey.

Tony is a highly respected specialist in the field of security, safety and the management of conflict and risk in organisations. International celebrated for his informative website : www.securityoperative.ie

Tony O’Brien: Tony is also a top industry consultant, who on a daily basis helps organisations develop solutions to their risk and conflict management issues through formulating effective processes and designing training, policy and risk assessments to meet real world challenges. Based in Ireland, he’s also qualified as an expert witness in the use
of force, and most security related fields. Tony is also a QQI subject matter expert for the security and safety sectors and Winner of the 2016 IITD Rising Star Award.

Tony O’Brien