By Tony O'Brien, The Security Operative
Your regulator is not your friend (and isn’t supposed to be)
I am writing this in reference to some commentary over the past few weeks and months in relation to the security industry as a whole. It’s no secret that it hasn’t been a great few months for the security industry in Ireland or abroad. Public perception has been further negatively affected by the actions of a few rogue elements both here and abroad in some high profile incidents and it’s hard to remember a time when the industry got so much bad press in such a short period. It hasn’t been pleasant and I’m sure it hasn’t been an easy few months for the PSA either. One feature that I’ve seen is the constant commentary about the regulator and what are they going to do do to protect those of us working in the industry from this bad press, attacks and negative perception. How will they raise pay and conditions and make sure we are better protected from attack. The reality is they will not do anything because it isn’t their job to. They aren’t there to protect us they are there to protect people from us. That’s the role of a regulator and that’s what I want to explore here.
Role of a regulator
The role of a regulator is to act as a public service body and regulate a particular industry. They are there to protect the public from rogue operators or poor behaviour in that industry. The industry we refer to is security but it could as easily be taxi driving or transport or health or any other regulated industry. Nowhere in any regulators charter that I’ve seen does it say that they are a friend of the industry or have a role in protecting those within the industry.
Some people that I’ve seen online and met in person have somehow got this impression that becomes we pay a licence fee that we are owed some form of protection. Of course we are owed protection as security staff but not from the PSA. That’s the role of an employer and of representative bodies.
The idea of the licence fee is that good operators pay the regulator to keep bad operators out of the industry. Now you could argue that the regulator hasn’t been successful in doing that and it would have merit but that’s a separate argument. The licence fee is not paid to the PSA for them to protect us from the public or from rogue employers poor practice. It protects the public from the industry.
Mission statement and values
I’m not trying to stick up for the PSA here. I’d be the first to admit they have plenty of work to do but to be fair there is nowhere in their mission statement or values that says that they owe any allegiance to the people who work in the industry.
Their mission statement reads
To regulate the activities of those involved in the private security industry to ensure that the interests of consumers are fully protected through the establishment, promotion, monitoring and enforcement of appropriate standards.
No mention of protecting security staff anywhere there. They are there to protect consumers.
Let’s move onto their vision:
Once again nothing about protecting the industry or anybody in it. There is however a part about having sufficient resources for delivery of services. That’s what your licence fee is for. To pay the regulator to regulate. Not for protection or support. So whatever idea some people have gotten into their head that the regulator should help the industry is mythical. That’s not why they are there for.
Why we needed regulation
Then we get to the ‘scrap the system’ brigade. Let’s go back to the ‘good old days’. To be honest that’s rubbish. The good old days weren’t good. The industry was filled with criminals and conmen. To an extent it still is but nowhere near what it was. Has the regulator succeeded in cleaning up the industry? No it hasn’t but it’s significantly cleaner than it was.
Has it made it better or more lucrative to work in the industry? No it’s hasn’t really. I don’t think the PSA did that though. They brought in a licence and vetting (which was needed) . They didn’t hire any muppets or shift fillers or pay anybody less wages. The industry did.
Look at the success of the PSA from their own perspective and against their own standards.
1. Are there now less criminals in the industry. Yes.
2. Is there now mandatory training in the industry. Yes
3. Has there been transformation in the industry. Yes.
4. Have they got sufficient resources to continue from all of this. Yes
If they are judged against their own vision then they aren’t doing so bad. Problem is that the industry is often unaware of what the regulators vision is.
Have they made the public safer? From rogue security staff yes but overall safety I would argue no. That’s not all down to regulation though.
Once again I’m not saying they are perfect but aren’t they meant to be a positive thing for us.
Representatives not regulators
So if the PSA isn’t supposed to look after the industry then who is? Well that’s the job of industry representatives. Therein lies the problem. We don’t have any. Some would talk about the trade unions but the reality is that only a small portion of the industry is in a trade union and only a small portion of employers recognise them.
There are entire sections of the industry (door supervisors, private investigators etc) where there is almost zero union representation and absolutely zero sector representative groups of any quality. In short there is no collective representative group for the industry so the industry has to protect itself like I wrote about in my previous article. That’s not the regulators doing that’s the industries fault.
It’s the fault of the industry and the lack these alleged representative bodies on both the employer and employee sides has seen the standard in the industry go down. Same with the money. The regulator doesn’t employ anybody in the industry and they don’t set rates. The industry does.
When regulation came in we were all told tales of better money, more jobs, better conditions, safer working. Not by the regulator but by the industry. Employers and union reps pushed this agenda. That’s who controls the rates and the conditions.The clients/employers set the rates and the conditions and employees decide whether they want to work for those rates and conditions. That’s the free market. There is limited state intervention and the PSA can set absolute minimums but that’s it.
Like I said I didn’t write this piece to commend or complain about the regulator or the industry. I wrote it because I see a fundamental misunderstanding among people in the industry of how a regulator works. They serve the public not the industry. The industry is supposed to protect itself from within through representation and progression. In reality if you are doing your job you should have very little to do with the regulator. You pay your licence fee every 3 years to work in a regulated industry and you do your job and that should be the extent of it. If you feel like you aren’t being treated right, the industry isn’t being run right or you aren’t being sod enough you might be right. That’s for the industry, including you and me to sort out not the regulator.