What about the security of security guards?

Security guards in Croatia suffer from harsh working conditions: extremely long work shifts, poor equipment, minimum salary. They are overburned and cannot have a proper private life, but they have little alternatives. Yet security business is flourishing in Europe, and companies make millions of revenues.

Published On: December 16th, 2019
What about the security of security guards?_62ccab79ad007.jpeg
What about the security of security guards?_62ccab79ad007.jpeg

What about the security of security guards?

Security guards in Croatia suffer from harsh working conditions: extremely long work shifts, poor equipment, minimum salary. They are overburned and cannot have a proper private life, but they have little alternatives. Yet security business is flourishing in Europe, and companies make millions of revenues.

“The Labour Law foresees that employers can require employees to perform overtime work up to four or six months,” according to Nikola Sraka, Secretary of the Union of Employees in the Security Guard Services in Croatia. “In the security sector, everyone has been working overtime for more than a decade. Last year, no security company has reported any workers working part-time.” Security guards tell us that they are underpaid, their workplaces do not have a toilet and they do not wear adequate clothing. However, it is the workers who get punished when there is an inspection. For port and reception work, more and more employees are being hired as security guards instead of receiving contracts as receptionists, because it is cheaper and more and more women are employed in this manner.

“But it’s a job,” says security guard Zdravko, leaning against a wall near a tin kiosk where he spends most of his days guarding the entrance to one of the larger domestic companies on the outskirts of Zagreb. He has been working in the Security Guard Services for the last six years, after working in warehouses for a string of other companies. In the late fifties, one of the rare fields where there were job opportunities was in security. “I was ashamed when I went to apply for a license, everyone was younger than me. But I had no choice,” he explains. For the same reason, he is likely to remain in this job, although he is not satisfied, because his retirement is still several years away.

“I sometimes work up to 300 hours a month, but overtime is not recorded on schedules and payrolls,” reports Zdravko. “No one is afraid of inspections, inspections are pre-arranged. Inspections occur to punish workers, not the company. They come and inspect the colour of the t-shirt of employees, they don’t look at the books.” Zdravko holds a light cigarette between his thumb and forefinger. He nervously tosses it to the floor and steps on it with his boot in a quick left-right dance movement. He requests his name be changed to another name in the article.

“We live in fear on a daily basis, I can’t take the risk,” he says. He is chronically tired and sleep-deprived, feeling year after year that he is getting weaker and more nervous. One of his eyes is redder than the other, and his eyelid flickers from time to time. “I was not easily on edge before, but now I am. But to be underpaid makes you insecure. It’s always the same and only job. I smell like a dog day and night, for minimum pay.” Zdravko adds that he smokes too much and sometimes gets bored. 

Shifts, especially at night, turn the normal cycle of most people’s bodies upside down – processing information and being awake at night, and sleeping by day. Such a disorder, according to various studies, causes irritability, nervousness and depression. It can also lead to psychiatric disorders.

“I don’t really have a private life. It’s a big building and a lot of work. There should be more guards here, so we can rotate in normal shifts and rest as normal human beings. They send me to step in and make shifts in other branches. I can only dream of guaranteed hours of continuous rest. And where should I go now, considering that I’ll be 60 years old soon?”

When asked about workers’ organisation, Zdravgo laughed bitterly: “How can we get organised when we’re all scattered and don’t even know each other? I’m the only one to strike, and it doesn’t mean anything to anyone. Denounce and goodbye. There were fights for a collective agreement over 10 years ago but that was cancelled… When I started working for this company, there was nothing left of it. In general, no one cares about the security guards. People pass by me as if I were some kind of lamp, they don’t even say hello.”

Good business across Europe

On the occasion of the Day of the Protectors last autumn, an analysis of the business operations of the private Security Guard Services for 2016, 2017 and 2018 in Croatia was presented by Damir Čiković from an entrepreneurial audit company. Securitas Croatia ranks first in terms of turnover in 2018, and second in terms of gross profit. Klemm Security is positioned first in terms of gross profit, according to statistics on the operations of the private security sector in Croatia. Sokol ranks second with HRK 207.5 million and Klemm Security comes third with HRK 126 million in revenue. Sokol ranked in the same position a year earlier, however it increased its revenue by HRK 6.3 million this year. If we add up the revenue of Sokol, which operated in two companies – Sokol d.o.o. and Sokol Marić doo, then the companies of Zlatko Marić would rank first with a turnover of HRK 302, 8 million. It was pointed out that total revenues since 2014 have been steadily increasing.

This is not surprising. Security is a good business across Europe, a large number of private security firms are active in all countries, but there are different salaries for workers. For the purposes of this article, we have compared the annual revenues in the private security sector, the number of active licensed firms, and the minimum starting salary of unarmed security guards (not including overtime, weekends, night shifts, etc.) in seven European countries: Germany, Finland, Belgium, Austria, Spain, Sweden and Croatia.

All data is from 2013 and can be found in the Private Security Services Report for Europe , published by the Confederation of European Security Services (CoESS). The comparison shows that in all of the countries the annual income from private security is high, and in most countries, there is a large number of active private security firms. Of the seven countries we compared, in Croatia, security guards have by far the lowest minimum monthly wage (even when comparing living costs and standards), which amounted to €450, while the highest minimum monthly wage of security guards was registered in Sweden, where it amounted to €2,571. 

It should be noted that in all the countries we compared, the minimum monthly salaries of security guards were not significantly higher than the minimum monthly salaries in general. This is certainly one of the reasons why the profits of private security companies are growing year by year. Of course, this is accompanied by the dissatisfaction of employees.

People leave, their salaries stay the same

Sraka points out that there are simply too many problems in the security sector and no one wants to talk about it, especially not the Croatian Employers Association. “We have over 20,000 licensed security guards, and currently only half of them are licensed. People leave the guard services. The Labour Law itself says that no one can work over 48 hours a week on average (including overtime) in any four consecutive months, which can be extended to 6 months. However, everyone has been doing so in the security sector for 10, 15 years. The legislature allows it and nothing is being done.”

In the private security sector, no holiday allowances are paid. A man who doesn’t work on holidays must go to work elsewhere that day to fill the hours in order to satisfy the working chart, having a pre-established quota of working hours for that month, though the law says quite differently. In the security industry, everyone is perceived one one of two ways: either they are redistributing their working time, or they are not and are on leave.

For the last three years, there has been a shortage of labour and a greater fluctuation – people in the security sector, especially the younger ones, are returning to some of their home professions, but for the time being, this does not have the effect of improving standards and increasing wages. Companies are looking for people with fluency in at least one foreign language and computer literacy – all for rotting on the port for a minimum wage, so it makes sense for young people to leave such jobs faster.

As Sraka explains: “Last year, no security firm reported any workers working part-time, though they should. The average pay for 180 hours a month is HRK 3000, HRK 300-500 travel cost, but there are almost no security guards working under 200 hours. Maybe someone earns HRK 4500, but then works 250 hours a month, in shifts of 12, sometimes 16 hours. Security guards seem to have no private life, and people keep working because they need more than HRK 3000 to live.”

It also highlights the share of more risky positions – the Ministry of Interior does not have statistics on armed security guards, but it is a rough estimate that there are currently around 2000 armed security guards, working as private guards, in banks, etc. 

Sraka adds that “these are people who are at greater risk every day. A few months ago, a security guard was attacked in the street by Konzum in Črnomerc. In Slavonia, security guards were shot at in a vehicle. In banks they are legally responsible if something happens, which is an additional burden and stress. They work all the same for the minimum wage, there is no difference in wages, there are only fairy tales about it.”

Sraka also points out that the work equipment that security guards get is another problem and is often completely inadequate: “Shirts made of tent wings – for summer, short sleeves. They may be short sleeves, but they are terribly hot, inhumane. Old-style armour that has even expired. Containers and boxes without air conditioning. But that’s the message: a security guard does not need air conditioning.” This is confirmed by our security guard Vesna, who also requested we changer her name in the article. As she reports: “We used to have suit jackets, boots, work shoes, hats, winter hats, belts, security cards… Now everything is scrapped, we only have pants and a shirt, and for the lucky ones, a sweater.”

When it comes to the biggest problems, Vesna points out that many security workplaces do not have a toilet. This is a problem, especially for women. The Union of Employees in the Security Guard Services tells us that an estimated 30 to 40 per cent of security personnel are currently women.

According to Sraka, “companies hire through security agencies rather than receptionist firms because it is cheaper and most women are employed in this segment. Receptionist work is supposed to be better paid as it involves more obligations and knowledge.” Sraka also draws attention to the number of security guards who have died in the workplace – 42 in the last 20 years. “The actual number is probably higher, as this number is based on press and television news. There are probably cases that were not recorded anywhere. If we add the number of injured people, which we did not investigate, that figure could be quite high.”

Further degradation of employment standards

We are also talking about the new Private Protection Act. Sraka stresses that, despite some positive developments, they are not satisfied with the Union of Employees in the Security Guard Services because it is going to lower the criteria for guards and security guards. According to him, “if we want to do better and improve the quality of private protection, we have to raise the criteria, not lower them.”

Furthermore, on the occasion of the Security Guard Day last autumn, Assistant Interior Minister Damir Trut noted: “You have to keep in mind that while our country is a safe country, we cannot neglect the emergence of new security risks and threats, making our critical infrastructure much more vulnerable, which is an additional motive for further professionalizing, training and equipping the security profession through EU funds.”

Trut stressed that the private security sector is an essential segment of both the business and security systems, which is “recognized in the National Security Strategy, whose guidelines provide for the operational involvement of the sector (public and private companies) in the ‘homeland security’ system.” However, it is very problematic to expand the activities of the private security sector in parallel with the lowering of standards in security guard employment. The part about “professionalizing, training and equipping the security profession” is simply not materializing in practice, nor on paper in the new Private Protection Act.

Vesna is of the same opinion: “The security industry has lost an enormous number of highly qualified employees, creating opportunities for new employees who aren’t benefiting from improved conditions. Lately, many young people have passed the security guard exam. They are steadily moving from one security company to another hoping that conditions will be better in the next one. But in reality, this is not actually the case.”

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