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An AWOL policy

Paula Mathers, Assistant Director of guarding company Coverguard Security writes.

When Coverguard Security was being assessed for SIA ACS Certification one of the questions I was asked by our assessor was “why do you treat your self-employed contractors in the same way as you treat your staff? You don’t need to.” That comment has stuck with me for a good while now, and still irritates me a year after it was made.

Self-employed contractors are a God-send to us. When something happens – for example the Manchester concert bombing – our workload can triple over night. We get no warning and all of a sudden our clients need three or four officers instead of one each shift. One of our clients went from requesting 100 hours a month from us to 450 each month; and that was just one of our clients. Every client had similar increased needs. We had to call our self-employed guys to help out because we couldn’t just recruit a whole entire workforce over night. Chopping and changing their personal lives, they pulled out all of the stops to help us cover the shifts, and we are eternally grateful to them for the loyalty they showed to us – even though they didn’t need to.

I believe loyalty and respect goes both ways. The better you treat your staff and self-employed contractors, the more they will want to work for you.

What happens within your organisation when a self-employed contractor doesn’t show up for a shift? (It happens to all of us, so please don’t read this with your nose in the air claiming that “that kind of thing doesn’t happen here”). They just completely blow out with no reason, you can’t get them on the phone to find out what has happened …? You get angry or frustrated, right? You head to the site to cover it yourself and frantically ring around trying to get someone else to come in and relieve you to cover the “unreliable, unworthy of your shifts loser” who has just dropped out and left you in the lurch. You take them off of your books, you spread the word around that they aren’t worth their salt and you forget about them. That’s the case that I see on Facebook groups, that’s what I hear from colleagues at other security companies, and that’s what I hear from my self-employed contractors when I stop by to check on them – bringing pizza with me if they’ve helped me out at the last minute for a building site, or with some other form of visible gratitude.

With a view to the above, just stop and think for a minute…

When, as a society did we become so cynical? Why has it become the automatic assumption that the Security Officer / Door Supervisor has blown out? Why, as security companies, isn’t the automatic concern about the security and safety of the officer?

In 2010 Gareth Williams, GCHQ staff member seconded to SIS (Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6 as they’re more commonly known) didn’t show up for work. His department never questioned it – they probably assumed he was out working in the field. His managers, the people who should have known he wasn’t out working elsewhere, didn’t question it. No one called him to check and make sure he was ok. A week later Williams’ employers realised they hadn’t heard from him, and so tried raising him on the phone. When he didn’t answer, they grew concerned and sent the welfare officer around to his London flat to check on him.

Gareth Williams’ body was found in a zipped up holdall, in the bath tub with the bathroom door closed and the heating in the flat turned to the very maximum. Because of the length of time he had been there, there will probably never be any way of finding out how Williams actually died. His family will never have the answers they will forever be searching for.

Clearly the Gareth Williams case is the very extreme of what has happened. Some security officers do just blow out and discard your shift for something with a higher hourly rate. Next time, however, stop and think – is your missing contractor lying in a ditch, unable to answer the phone because their car went off the road? Have they been followed home by someone they refused entry to a club last weekend, and are lying injured in their home? Our self employed contractors might not be staff, but they are still people. They still deserve our concern and they still deserve our respect. I am very proud that Coverguard Security have an AWOL policy – and this covers both staff and contractors alike. I would much rather find out that one of our contractors has just forgotten about his or her shift than finding them hurt somewhere, or maybe even worse.


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