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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

SIA blames employers for illegal security personnel.

13 November, 2007
Illegal employment of UK security staff could amount to 5000 with the Security Industry Association and Government blaming industry employers for failing to check on legality of employees despite SIA vetting procedures in place.
Keeping front line staff positions filled with qualified and competent staff has always been something of a challenge particularly for manned guarding companies where staff turnover is relatively high compared with other sectors of the industry and this is nothing new. To overcome this, many companies in the UK use immigrant employees, most of whom provide the high quality, competent and reliable service that these companies need. The difficulty with those who arrive from outside the EU though revolves around the vetting process where obtaining work records and criminal history can be difficult from many countries.

This problem was partially overcome when the Home Office set up the Security Industry Association (SIA) four years ago as the licensing authority for security personnel. Although at generally 5 years worth of history coming under scrutiny, the vetting could hardly be considered comprehensive, there was at least the comfort of a systematic approach to finding out something about the people being employed on potentially sensitive and certainly trust dependent projects.

All was quiet until this weekend when a UK Sunday tabloid revealed that as many as 5000 security staff in the country are working illegally. Given the sensitivity of security in the UK, the porridge wasn't very sluggish about hitting the fan and the issue is now one of politics.

Fingers are pointing in all directions and both Government and SIA digits are pointing firmly and unjustifiably at the employers with both saying that at the time the illegal workers were employed, it was the employers responsibility to ensure the legality of their staff and that the SIA was only responsible for vetting.

The fact that these people had licenses issued by a Home Office authority led many employers to believe that they must surely have the right to work or the Home Office surely wouldn't grant a license. Not so, according to the SIA, because they only check their past and not whether they have a legal right to work in the country.

The figure of 5000 illegal employees is uncertain until the 40000 UK license holders are checked so no-one is quite sure who they are or where they are. Contract security personnel work in night-clubs, shopping centres, factories, airports and even in the police.

Blaming the employers is too easy and indeed one of those employers is the Metropolitan Police and another one is the Government itself so this is certainly no time for scape-goating the hard pressed manned guarding industry who do their best to supply a high quality service in increasingly difficult circumstances. The SIA now includes legality checks as part of its vetting process, as laughingly obvious as this may seem so there is a good chance that when the opposition has exhausted the political mileage that they can get from this, we may at least have a more comprehensive protection process in place.

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