Security personnel subject to low pay and long hours

Polish security companies tend to employ workers on the basis of service contracts or contracts for completing a specific task. Fully-fledged employment contracts are rare in the security industry; as a result, most security guards are not entitled to employee benefits such as paid leave. Moreover, they tend to receive low wages and work long hours, with their employers paying reduced social insurance contributions. Compensation for night work has sparked controversy.

Problems affecting security personnel

An estimated 200,000 persons work as security guards in Poland. In 2007, the value of the security services market was assessed at PLN 5 billion (about €1.14 billion as at 11 May 2009), according to the National Bank of Poland (Narodowy Bank Polski, NBP). The fact that most security guards work on the basis of various temporary or short-term service employment contracts leaves them without benefits such as paid holidays, paid sick leave or overtime pay.

Low pay and long working hours

In July 2008, representatives of the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union ‘Solidarity’ (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy, NSZZ Solidarność) spoke out about the need to improve working and pay conditions of security personnel, citing the results of a survey based on a questionnaire and conducted among 1,100 security workers. The study, carried out between April and June 2008, indicated that no less than 40% of security guards receive low hourly wages of about PLN 5 to PLN 6 (just under €1.50). Apart from pay levels, the survey results indicated another serious problem in the security industry, namely the fact that many security guards work between 300 and 400 hours a month. This information prompted NSZZ Solidarność in July 2008 to address a petition to the largest security companies, urging them to increase the remuneration of their workers. However, as no reaction was forthcoming, representatives of the sector held a series of demonstrations outside the Warsaw offices of major banks in October 2008.

Low social insurance contributions by employers

Apart from offering low wages to security guards, security companies also seek to economise on mandatory contributions to the national social insurance scheme administered by the Social Insurance Institution (Zakład Ubezpieczeń Społecznych, ZUS). For instance, security companies tend to sign a service contract with a security guard for the amount of PLN 50 (€11.54), with all social insurance contributions on this amount proportionally and duly paid. The same employer then establishes another company which signs a new service contract with the same employee, offering the worker higher pay. Under such a scenario, only health insurance contributions from the value of the second contract are mandatory; pension and disability insurance, meanwhile, become optional, which is in accordance with Article 9 of the Social Insurance System Act 1998. The savings that a less scrupulous employer can make in this way are considerable.

Impact of Act on minimum wage

Under the legislative Act of 10 October 2002 on the minimum remuneration for work, the minimum monthly wage in Poland is set on an annual basis by the Polish Prime Minister or by a regulation of the Council of Ministers. For 2009, the minimum monthly wage was set at PLN 1,276 (€292). This minimum wage level also applies to security guards with an employment contract. However, in practice, many security guards build up most of their working hours at night; in accordance with Article 1518 of the Polish Labour Code, every hour of work completed during night time should be compensated by a 20% bonus. In other words, presuming that a security guard works the statutory 176 hours a month during night work, their monthly remuneration should be increased by a fifth.

Yet, to apply the definitive methodology of calculating remuneration formulated by the Central Statistical Office for Poland (Główny Urząd Statystyczy, GUS), which is responsible for conducting national statistics, night work may be counted as a component of minimum remuneration and not as an extra element. This means that the increased difficulty of working at night must not be compensated by a 20% bonus. The controversy sparked by this solution was addressed in the position paper issued by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej, MPiPS) on 6 March 2009, and in another paper by the Chief Labour Inspector, Tadeusz Jan Zając, on 6 April 2009. Both statements upheld the original interpretation by GUS, although Mr Zając declared that he will seek amendment of the relevant rules.

Commentary

The issue of night work and employer abuses associated with the execution of service contracts appear to cause particular grief for security guards given the specific nature of their work. At the same time, given the public procurement laws and the culture of their application in Poland, security contractors who take advantage of legal loopholes in this respect increase their chances of winning bids for security provision at courthouses and other public or administrative institutions, mainly because they are in a position to charge less. In a way, it could be argued that institutions selecting such security contractors indirectly legitimise the treatment of security staff by their employers.

Piotr Sula, Institute of Public Affairs (ISP)

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