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‘Security guards, receptionists and cleaning too dependent on the good will of clients’

23 November 2022

Raising and maintaining salaries of security guards and other facility service providers requires agreements with the companies that hire the employees. This need not be complicated, writes Michael Bouwens.

Geert van de Laar, chairman of the Responsible Market Conduct Code - a guide of principles for clients, contractors, hirers and unions within the facilities management market - recently sounded the alarm. The steep wage increases of employees of facilities service providers and passing them on to clients has reached worrying proportions. If clients are not prepared to pay for higher wage costs of facilities employers, bankruptcies and redundancies are inevitable.

Suppliers of security, catering and cleaning services have been experiencing serious problems in the current labour market for some time. The situation of security guards at Schiphol Airport is a telling and painful example. The reality is that it is almost impossible to keep existing staff with low-paid jobs happy and to dissuade those individuals from starting work in another sector, let alone finding new staff.

Especially for low-paid workers, the setbacks do not seem to stop. They were already regular victims of reorganisations during the corona crisis and now face the next challenge in constantly rising costs of living. The hefty wage hikes in 2022 and 2023 of facility workers have had little effect. Consequently, employees are currently asking not only for additional pay increases on top of the strong wage hike in the collective agreement, but also for wider reimbursements of expenses and even advances. The inevitable tension between employers and employees logically translates into high absenteeism.

Highest rate hike ever

The primary goal of wage growth in collective agreements - to create an attractive labour market in the facilities sector - has by no means been achieved yet, and personnel management is more than ever a day job for employers. But perhaps even greater is the challenge on the customer side. Facilities service providers currently have to explain to their customers that a hefty rate hike is necessary to keep paying higher wages at already low profit margins. For security guards, wages will rise by at least 15 per cent on 1 January 2023, translating into the highest rate hike ever for customers.

Facility service providers are in almost all cases dependent on the willingness of their customers to pay more, as indexation of rates is not included in contracts or existing agreements on indexation are not sufficient in the current labour market. When indexation is too low, facilities service providers have to cut costs, which inevitably leads to unsafe situations, unhealthy food and unfashionable buildings. Once again, people on the shop floor ultimately pay the price. They have to do more work in less time or lose their jobs.

Not getting anywhere

Van de Laar's moral appeal to the business community to engage constructively with facilities service providers and recognise that higher indexation is unavoidable, will make little difference at the negotiating table. Parties remain unabatedly at the mercy of the good will of clients. Even the explanation by Ard van der Steur, chairman of the Dutch Security Industry, that a qualified security guard should receive a good salary and that high-quality security is therefore 'allowed to have a price', does not get employers anywhere. They ultimately have to see for themselves how to get clients to pull out their wallets.

The solution is relatively simple, but is not put forward by either Van de Laar or Van der Steur and their respective supporters: adding a collective services agreement (CDA) to the current collective agreements. Such a CDA is a written agreement containing concrete agreements between clients and contractors on, among other things, allowances, overtime compensation, quality assurance, permits, employer responsibility, sustainability as well as price indexations. The CDA ensures peace and continuity in the facilities sector. Clients, contractors, hirers, unions and employees know where they stand at any time. An easy-to-implement instrument, which is considerably more effective than a moral appeal.

The article was published by Het Parool as an opinion column on the 22nd of November 2022.