‘Never again a contract without a fixed minimum wage’

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A security guard who can never take a day off, has no winter clothes and cannot take a break. In Warsaw, that used to be quite normal in the security sector. Filiz Deveci, operational manager at the embassy in the Polish capital, found this unacceptable. She campaigned for better employment conditions – and learned a wise but painful lesson in the process.

Day in, day out Filiz Deveci saw security guard Maciek on patrol in and around the embassy in Warsaw – come rain or shine, in arctic or sub-tropical temperatures, and always in the same clothes. Maciek was never ill. ‘I asked him why he never took a day off,’ says Filiz. ‘And why he never wore a warm coat or hat or stayed at home when he was ill.’

No Break

She was astounded by his answer. He didn’t have any leave, and his employer didn’t issue warm coats or hats, and it cost him money to be ill. He worked ten hours a day, had no breaks and didn’t even have enough time to go to the toilet. ‘We raised the issue with his employer,’ says Filiz. ‘But all they said was that he could eat his lunch while watching the security monitors. This was unacceptable, I thought. This man is essential for our work processes. He’s responsible for our safety. And we’re responsible for him.’

But this situation was the norm in Poland. ‘When our contract with the security firm ended, we made these conditions of employment a major requirement in the procurement process,’ Filiz says. ‘They included not only salary, pensions and days off, but also decent clothing, bonuses and training opportunities.’

Everything fixed

The embassy decided to take on an extra security guard for four hours a day to help Maciek, so that he would have time for a decent break. And he went along on staff outings. ‘He was part of the team, so he had every right to come with us without having to take leave,’ Filiz says. She thought she’d got everything fixed. ‘A highly motivated security guard is a better security guard,’ was her conclusion.

But as it turned out, she’d been naive to think this. The security guard’s salary was lower than before. The employer deducted holidays, sick leave and pension contributions from his salary. This was all in accordance with local legislation, but not too great for the security guard himself, because he had less take-home pay. ‘We should have set a fixed minimum wage in the contract, taking account of local social insurance contributions,’ says Filiz. ‘Now we were tied hand and foot.’ Together with the embassy’s management team, Filiz spent months in negotiations with the security firm’s senior management, but to no avail. ‘Their tender had met the requirements,’ she concludes. ‘This was an expensive lesson. In future I’ll make sure we specify a fixed minimum wage, in addition to social insurance contributions.’

Collaboration

Filiz is now in Madrid, and has taken the lessons she learned in Warsaw with her. ‘In contract award procedures, it’s really important to keep your eye on the ball,’ she says. ‘If a company says it gives bonuses every six months and organises training courses, this often only applies to managers. Staff on the ground – like the security guard – don’t benefit. You have to make them understand that unfair employment conditions are a real dealbreaker for you.’ Filiz believes that it’s important to join forces with other embassies. ‘If several contracting parties make this issue a major procurement criterion, companies will hopefully take it on board in their operational management.’

Sustainability comes with a price tag. Taking on an extra security guard cost money. ‘But it was worth every penny,’ concludes Filiz.