Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Who looks after the security people?

FRIENDS who went handing out leaflets at a Home Office building in London where asylum seekers have to sign on regularly- sometimes not knowing whether they'll walk out free - found something odd happening. Those who came out reported that the leaflets - giving information such as where to get free legal advice - were confiscated from them by the uniformed security guards on duty.

Immigration control and detention of asylum seekers are providing plenty of work for private security firms like Group 4-Securicor, along with electronic tagging of offenders. Last year the Home Office spent more than £100m on tagging, and there are plans to extend it to asylum seekers.

Security staff working for private firms are among the lowest-paid workers, usually doing the job because they can't get anything else. Working long unsocial hours, and often treated like dirt by employers, whether their own or those to whom they are contracted, some unfortunately take it out on those who they get to push around, in places like detention centres.

Government and public services have been "out-sourcing" security for years, just like cleaning and other work seen as unimportant. If this rebounds we can only hope that unlike dirty hospitals, it hits those in charge for once instead of Joe and Joanne Public. But better still if security workers can get organised. So here's some good news, and a call for support:


Indonesian workers employed by global security giant Securicor have been through a lot. Over a year ago, they took the decision to strike -- and were promptly (and illegally) sacked by the company. Since then, they have tried every means, including online campaigns, to win back their jobs. Most recently, the Supreme Court of their country has ruled in their favour. So the struggle is now over, right? Surely a transnational corporation is not going to ignore a Supreme Court ruling ...But Securicor is refusing to give the workers their jobs back -- and the workers have decided to occupy the company's offices in Jakarta.

These workers have been through a tremendous struggle -- a strike, lengthy court battles, and now an audacious act of defiance by occupying Securicor's offices. They have appealed through their sister unions to trade unionists around the world to send off a simple message to thecompany demanding that it obey the law and give them their jobs back.

Please take a moment and send off your message now: http://www.labourstart.org/cgi-bin/solidarityforever/show_campaign.cgi?c=125
This campaign will appear in additional languages here:

Group 4 Securicor, formed by a merger, and quoted on the stock exchange, gets around, employing more than 100,000 workers in more than 100 countries, not always operating under its own name. One company it now controls is Hashmira in Israel. Here's a report from the Guardian a few years back:

Group 4 security firm pulls guards out of West Bank
Company acts after Guardian investigation reveals how armed patrols work with Israeli settlers to control Palestinians Peter Lagerquist and Jonathan Steele in Jerusalem
Wednesday October 9, 2002

A Guardian investigation in the settlement of Kedumim showed that Hashmira's guards work closely with Israel's military and security apparatus. In the name of "security" the guards, many of whom are settlers, routinely prevent Palestinian villagers from cultivating their own fields, travelling to schools, hospitals and shops in nearby towns, and receiving emergency medical assistance.

Intimidation and harassment are common, causing many villagers to fear for their lives. With prisons in the United States, Australia and South Africa, as well as the UK, Group 4 Falck has earned a reputation for pushing private security into new domains.

Group 4 security firm pulls guards out of West Bank http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,807149,00.html

While the company may have reduced its operations in the occupied territories, it is still being criticised for violating rights of its own workers. The Workers Hotline Kav LaOved reported recently that in the past year there were more than 360 complaints to the country's Labour Courts about Kvutzat Hashmira, which employs 13,000 workers.

Kvutzat Hashmira, which is 71.5 per cent owned by Group 4 Securicor, failed to set aside sufficient funds for employees' pensions, then claimed that the workers had waived their rights when they joined. The Labour Courts rejected this claim.

Kvutzat Hashmira promised to remedy matters, and its licence was renewed, but the workers' rights hotline accuses the company of failing to honour its promises. "We stress that the workers are low earners who barely make minimum wages "., weites Kav LaOved's Evan Golan "Their job entails putting their lives on the line in a company that obtains a government license to employ these people"

Originally formed to help Palestinian workers from the Occupied Territories who commuted to jobs in Israel, Kav LaOved has widened its remit to advise new immigrants on their rights and assist the growing army of migrant workers from around the world filling low-paid, menial jobs which Israelis don't want, and doing work from which Palestinians have been excluded.

Kav LaOved petitioned the Licensing Department in the Israeli Ministry of Justice to reconsider the renewal of the company's licenses. Last year the licensing committee renewed the license despite information regarding the violation of workers' rights as well as verdicts given by the courts. with a letter of recommendation from the Israeli Federation of Trade Unions (Histadrut).The company did not fulfill its obligation to the Licensing Department as can be inferred from the verdicts given by labor courts against the company, as well as the complaints lodged by workers to Kav LaOved during 2005.

The security group employs 13,000 workers. Some 360 complaints were lodged in the Labor Courts, but Kav LaOved says not all the workers whose rights were violated complained. "Therefore we surmise that the company systematically violates the rights of most of its employees. Reviewing the verdicts handed down by the courts shows that the company avoided setting aside funds for pensions for all eligible workers, and that the company consistently claimed before the court that it is not obligated to set aside such funds, because the workers waive their rights to this basic form of social security. The labor courts systematically rejected these claims."

"Our standpoint is that this situation must not be allowed to persist, as, in practice, it allows the company to continue violating workers' rights. We stress that the workers are low earners who barely make minimum wages. Their job entails putting their lives on the line in a company that obtains a government license to employ these people."

After this record and the complaints, the news came on May 29:

Despite violations of worker rights,
Hashmira wins operating license

by Ruth Sinai, HAARETZ

The Ministry of Justice extended the operating license of Hashmira, the country's largest employer of security guards, despite a large number of rulings against the company for violations of workers' rights. In 2005, more than 350 workers at Hashmira, which employs about 7,000 security guards, sued the company over labor law violations. In 2005 the Justice Ministry renewed the company's license despite its record. The decision was based partly on Hashmira's promise "to make sure its employers enjoy the rights guaranteed to them by law."

The Justice Ministry committee responsible for licensing security companies asked Hashmira to provide information about the suits filed by employees against the company, which promised to submit the material within a month. Last December, attorney Eran Golan of the Kav La'oved workers' rights organization asked the licensing committee to tell him when it would be considering Hashmira's license extension for 2006.

After receiving no response, he repeated his request in late February, again in late March and on May 21. "As far as we know, no similar number of lawsuits has ever been filed by employees against a company," Golan said about the legal action taken against Hashmira. "The company violates its employees' rights on a regular basis."

A ministry spokesman told Haaretz recently that Hashmira's 2006 operating license had been renewed in October, 2005. two months before Golan's initial request to the committee. Golan is planning to take legal action against the committee's decision and its failure to notify Kav La'oved of its actions. Hashmira released the following statement through its public relations representative: "We have no intention of responding to every letter sent to us by some organization or another that chooses to promote itself through the media."

In his letter to the committee of March 20, Golan included a detailed list of rulings against the company in 2005-06. On April 10, 2006, the Nazareth Labor Court ordered Hashmira to pay NIS 1,938 to an employee for failing to pay into a pension fund for him. On March 1, the Haifa Labor Court ruled that a waiver of severance pay signed by an employee at the company's insistence was not legally binding. The court ruled that Hashmira's behavior was unreasonable, and that it was not acting in good faith.

One Ha'aretz reader commented from experience, and from the heart:
"This is just another example of how Israel has become a 3rd world nation. Salaries of workers are illegal (below minimum wage) and the government does nothing to stop it. The owners of Hashmira live like kings in upscale Kvar Shariyahu while they employ new immigrants and those who can hardly feed their families for slave wages. Only in Israel is someone expected to put their live on the line by stopping a suicide bomber at the enterance of a public place for 7 shekel an hour. Heroes are cheap in Israel".

In case you're wondering whereof I speak, yes I have been a security man, though it was here in Britain, and less dangerous than working in the building trade and other industries. I didn't have to do anything more distasteful than guarding the rich man's property and one occasion, escorting a "trespasser" off what really was public property though the Tory council was selling it off. (The following day one of our pillocks of officers told me I should have arrested the man - though that was against both my principles and the law. Nothing like a few stripes on a uniform to bring out the dickheads among us).

Not all security men are bullies or fascists, though some are, and they probably enjoy the opportunities afforded to mistreat people, just like their counterparts in the police, though they are nothing like as well paid.
Remember though, however angry they make you feel, it's the people making money at the top and their system that's to blame.



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