13 Apr 2021

MIQ moving to in-house security eight months after government decision

6:58 pm on 13 April 2021

Government security roles for managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities have only recently been advertised, eight months after the government decided to hire its own security force instead of using private firms.

Police at the Grand Mecure Hotel in Wellington, which is being used as a managed isolation facility.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says the recruitment of security officers is underway and will be complete in two months (File image). Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

After a privacy breach incident in August, the number of Defence Force staff at the hotels was boosted, and the government said remaining security guards would be employed directly by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) in future.

The ministry said recruitment of security officers was under way and would be complete in two months.

In a statement, a spokesperson said it wanted to stage its recruitment drive replacing private contractors "to minimise any security risks at the managed isolation facilities".

It expected about 85 percent of security guards at managed isolation facilities would be employed by government agencies, to reduce the reliance on contractors.

The government has also been using Defence Force personnel to provide security at MIQ facilities. An MIQ spokesperson said privately employed guards provided about 35 percent of the current workforce when that was taken into account.

Nearly 400 people had applied for 156 security officer vacancies at its managed isolation facilities in the last fortnight.

The ministry had also recruited 31 of 32 operations and security managers, who are responsible for the day-to-day management of its new security officer workforce.

Security Association chief executive Gary Morrison said many of those employed privately preferred their current conditions, and he was wary of the government employing its own security force.

"I just question whether they necessarily have the expertise. They can obviously recruit well skilled people but any security provider will have very indepth systems and processes, they'll have equipment that they utilise for the safety of the staff, and for a new operator starting up that's not an easy process to replicate."

Morrison said security guards preferred their current jobs because the government had capped hours and a one-year-contract.

"Security providers I've talked to have been very open with their staff and they've suggested it's in their interest to go and explore opportunities. But the strong feeling is that they will stick with their current roles and look for some degree of security based around what they already have through their ongoing employment."

The ministry's job advertisement for security officer roles shows it is offering a salary starting above the Living Wage at $48,601 to $56,104 on a 12-month contract.

E tū union represents security guards and organiser Mat Danaher said it was important that those jumping the fence from a private firm into a public-service managed isolation role be recognised for the additional responsibility.

He said he had seen the contracts offered and was satisfied the conditions were reasonable.

"It will certainly be significantly more than what they're on and it will be more than the Living Wage," he said.

"It's protecting society from Covid and ensuring that it doesn't get out into the wider community, which is different to a lot of roles out there."

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the ministry was offering competitive workplace terms and conditions and employee benefits for these workers.

"I'm told MBIE is confident it will fill all the new MBIE security officer roles for which it is currently undertaking a recruitment process," he said.

The ministry said it would retain one private security company for back-up support after reducing the number from 18 to three this year.

Applications for the ministry's managed isolation security officer roles close on Monday.

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