European code of conduct signed in private security sector

In July 2003, the European-level social partners in the private security sector signed a code of conduct, aimed at raising standards and guaranteeing a high level of professional ethics in the industry's firms. The code will also apply to companies in the new Member States joining the EU from 2004.

There are currently almost 10,000 private security companies employing some 600,000 people within the existing borders of the EU, and these figures will be roughly doubled when the Union is enlarged. A European-level social dialogue process has been underway in the sector for around a decade (EU9906179F), with a formal sectoral dialogue committee in place since 1999, resulting in the conclusion of a number of joint texts by the Confederation of European Security Services (CoESS), representing employers in the industry, and UNI-Europa, the European regional organisation of Union Network International (UNI), representing trade unions. On 18 July 2003, the two organisations signed a code of conduct, reflecting a belief that the rules governing their sector need to be harmonised across the EU and that this will be particularly important when 10 new Member States join the EU in May 2004. At the moment, national regulations and practices vary widely between Member States and are sometimes, in the social partners' view, inadequate or even non-existent, with the result that there are huge variations in the quality of service provided and that the sector is unable to take full advantage of European integration.

The code of conduct

The code contains a set of basic standards of professionalism and quality, which should be applied by all employers and employees in the sector. All firms should meet the basic conditions imposed by national legislation, complying strictly with both the spirit and the letter. According to the code, where there are gaps in national rules, employers and employees should work to improve them. The code covers a wide range of areas, ranging from the selection and recruitment of workers and vocational training to health and safety at work, and it includes non-discrimination and relations with clients, the police and other security firms.

Licensing and authorisation

A transparent and fair licensing system should be applied throughout the sector, regardless of the size of the individual companies concerned.

Selection and recruitment

Employee selection and recruitment should be carried out according to objective criteria that should be applied to all candidates, and it is of crucial importance that the employer ensures that new employees have the necessary skills to enable them to carry out their tasks.

Training

The code acknowledges the importance of training at all levels, underlining that basic training for new recruits is crucial. Where possible, this should fall within the framework of national or European regulations. Otherwise, the employer should undertake to provide it, and should also undertake to provide more specialised training as required. Once employees have mastered basic skills, employers should provide training on a continuous basis, allowing employees to update their competences and develop their careers, utilising the opportunities provided by new technologies. Employee representatives should be consulted on the development and assessment of continuing training programmes where possible.

Social dialogue

Both parties stress the key role of social dialogue at all levels in ensuring the professionalism of the sector, and the code recommends that the social partners work together to establish the appropriate structures.

Working conditions

The code acknowledges the crucial importance of maintaining good and humane working conditions. Employers should operate according to national laws and regulatory standards, and improvements to working conditions should be negotiated at national and at company level.

Pay and remuneration

According to the code, good standards of work should be remunerated appropriately and good standards of pay will attract good workers, contributing in turn to increased productivity and high standards of service. Rates of pay should, however, also allow the company to maintain competitiveness.

Health and safety

Some tasks within the sector bring with them a degree of risk. All companies should ensure that minimum standards of health and safety are maintained and that risk prevention is of the highest level possible. Norms and regulations in this area should be adhered to and should be regularly reviewed by the authorities and the social partners.

Equal opportunities and non-discrimination

The social partners affirm their support for the principles of equality and non-discrimination. Companies in the sector should apply these principles and guarantee that each employee is fully integrated and not discriminated against on grounds of ethnicity or social background, skin colour, union affiliation, sex, religion, political opinion, nationality, sexual orientation or any other distinctive characteristic.

Organisation of work

The codes notes that the social partners consider that the right balance should be found between two key areas: security of employment and ensuring the quality of the employee’s private life; and fulfilling the needs of the client. Thus, at enterprise level, the parties should cooperate to optimise the organisation of work, in particular as regards overtime, night work and weekend work.

Relationships with customers

Employers’ organisations representing private security firms should encourage their clients, whether in the private or public sector, to use companies that offer good value for money but also work within the principles laid down in the code, such as equal opportunities and non-discrimination and working conditions.

Relationship with the police

All private security companies should cooperate with national authorities, in particular with the police, while ensuring that that their employees do not divulge confidential information.

Relationship with other companies in the sector

Firms should operate fairly in relation to other companies in the sector and should not compete against each other on the basis of unfair cost-cutting practices.

Implementation and monitoring

The parties agree to ensure the regular follow-up of the code, including monitoring and evaluation at company, national and EU level. They stress that national employers' and trade union organisations must promote the code and its application as widely and as fully as possible.

Commentary

This is a ground-breaking new code of conduct for a burgeoning sector and is the fruit of a constructive dialogue between the social partners. It also sets out a framework for companies in this sector which operate in the Member States set to join the EU in 2004. The fact that the parties have jointly agreed to follow up the code, including the monitoring of its implementation at company, national and EU level, will doubtless strengthen its effectiveness. It was welcomed by Bernhard Jansen of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Employment and Social Affairs, who said: 'This is a clear sign that sector social partners are willing to address the challenges in a proactive way, in particular with a view to EU enlargement.' According to Bernadette Tesch-Ségol, the UNI-Europa regional secretary, 'the code will promote responsible behaviour and quality employment in the sector', while Marc Pissens, the COESS president, added: 'This code is breaking new ground. We must apply it in EU and accession countries, at all levels. Our sector should be cleaned up.' (Beatrice Harper, IRS)

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