I am a former psychiatric hospital security officer. I left that job after two years as the conditions of the work became too stressful and resulted in my spending over a year as an outpatient at the same institution I had previously been working at.
These conditions were things like:
- 12 hour shifts from either 6am-6pm or 6pm to 6am, both paid at the same rate, with an average of 48-84 hours of work per week.
- A pay rate (after a year’s seniority) of around 60 cents per hour above minimum wage.
- Lack of appropriate training for restraint or any specific psych hospital training of any kind, often having as an offsider other security officers who have never worked in a psych hospital situation before and as such do not understand the limitations and rules of operating within such a role.
- And of course, no such thing as overtime or other roles behind mandatory minimum penal rates.
Any attempts to negotiate for better workplace conditions was always met with what were essentially the same arguments. "No, you're security, you knew what you were signing up for, if you don't like it we will replace you.”
It was made very clear that due to the competitive tendering system if our company was to offer us better wages, conditions and other things that would make the job more bearable/safer that we would not manage to keep the contract during the next round of DHB negotiations. They would simply replace us with a cheaper company.
The cleaners at the hospital were on a DHB contract and the contrast between their rights, wages and treatment to ours was stark. They were paid more, had more rights and protections, and were clearly a part of the team at the hospital. Security on the other hand were not expected to last for more than a few years at most, we were not a part of the team, we were an expendable asset to be used up and discarded.
The day I told nursing staff I had handed in my notice I was approached by one of the duty nurse managers who took me aside and said how happy he was with me for quitting and that I was doing the right thing because security work at the hospital is such a dead end.
This attitude shocked me. Not only was security work at the hospital clearly needed, as made evident by the number of restraints I became involved in, but I had previously been asked to do room entries in the forensic ward as the nurses there had become sick of being assaulted when attempting room entries with a specific patient. My manager refused to allow this however, due to the associated dangers, the poor pay of my position, and the lack of accountability for my safety. This same manager was seriously injured in a hospital assault earlier this year.
It is my belief that with Fair Pay Agreements the 'tendering to the bottom' system that resulted in the perceived expendability of Security Officers, poor conditions, poor wages and what was essentially a burn-out and discard system of employment would be abated. If security officers have the ability to negotiate for good working conditions regardless of which company they work for, without the risk of their job being lost come the next tendering cycle, the people working this job could actually be safe at work. Security officers could work without significant mental and physical risk to themselves and others. We could become a valuable asset to the worksite, rather than a tool to be used and discarded.
This is a re-published submission to the Government’s consultation on Fair Pay Agreements with the permission of the author. The Council of Trade Unions is asking the Government to introduce a law that creates comprehensive Fair Pay Agreements that meet the ‘Framework for Fairness’ principles. If you haven't already, please add your support. You can read more about Fair Pay Agreements for the security industry here.