Are Wage Penalty Rates Still Relevant For The Security Industry?

Australian Money

As the 2016 federal election campaign gathers momentum, several key policy differences between warring parties have risen to the surface.

Education, jobs growth, health, housing affordability and taxation reform top the list of most discussed political issues; however, wage penalty rates for nights and weekends is also emerging as a second tier topic driven by the Unions and the Greens who are threating to make it a key federal election issue.

For workers who choose jobs covering nights and weekends, especially for the more attractive penalty rates rather than lifestyle and opportunities, any move away from the current Fairwork conditions could see many exit that sector for more mainstream jobs.  For those workers compelled to do rotating shifts as part of their normal job rotation, such as essential, emergency and security services personnel, this may also have a significant impact on retaining workers longer term whilst also making those jobs attractive to appropriate people in the future.

But are jobs really at risk?  Australia’s demographic has shifted significantly over the past several decades to a much ‘broader church’ so to speak. And while this is not an article or argument about religion, if we look at the Christian holy bible Genesis 2:3, which states Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made’, we can understand that, in this context, Sunday, the seventh day on the calendar, has in years gone by been viewed as the Christian holy day to come together for fellowship and worship. However, today, relatively few Australians attach any real religious significance to Sunday and are happy to work and collect the bonus financial points [where offered] for doing so.

Some employers too have recognised that many people don’t seek rest on the seventh day and are not only willing but wanting to work on weekends sometimes even without additional penalties.

Industries such as Cleaning and Security have taken massive advantage of this change in recent times and routinely exploit their employees by offering flat rates of pay sometimes as low as $18.00 per hour (p/h) 7 days per week.  These rates are not only impacting the commercial viability for many professional operators, but are well below the Fairwork guidelines making them illegal!

Many casual Security personnel working in the hospitality and events sectors are offered wage rates of between $22.00 and $25.00 p/h.  The current base ‘Award’ for a casual Security (Crowd Control) Officer is $24.98 p/h without weekend penalties, tax or superannuation.  According to the national Security Services Industry Award 2010 and Fairwork Australia, a casual Security (Crowd Control) Officer in 2016 should receive $34.97 p/h on a Saturday and $44.96 p/h on a Sunday plus Super.  Therefore even if $25.00 p/h was a blended rate, as sometimes claimed, it’s not even close to an appropriate wage figure.

What’s more shocking about this issue is that some very high profile clients (end users of security services) have happily entered into service contracts with suppliers (security providers) at rates that could never provide the capacity to pay their employees the correct remuneration, especially on weekends when most of their work is undertaken.

In spite of the perceived poor engagement of Security personnel by employers and clients alike, industry numbers continue to grow which could suggest people undertake security work because they want to rather than because it pays well.  Or could this be a reflection of other deeper issues to be covered in another article.

So when there is a cry about the perceived poor quality and capability of the average Security Officer, especially those at the public coal face of licensed venues and major events, remember they are likely to be receiving wages less than the national minimum guidelines and thus may occasionally act and respond accordingly.

Have wage penalties in the Security Industry become an issue of the past or are they the very thing that attracts and retains the best and most appropriate people.   If better wages through penalties are important to attracting and retaining good people, are market forces better at determining rates rather than industry guidelines and ineffective, poorly supported legislation?

By Brett McCall

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