Decent working conditions for security staff at the San José embassy

Asset Publisher

Decent working conditions for security staff at the San José embassy

The security sector in Costa Rica has a bad reputation. The sector is well-regulated by law, but poor enforcement results in poor compliance. Workers are regularly exploited, working long days for low wages or without a written employment contract. When in 2017 the embassy needed to contract a new security firm, it was time to take action against the poor employment conditions in this sector.

Ambassadeur Christine Pirenne met bewaker residentie


  • Project: Security of the embassy and two residences
  • Duration: 2 years, with two one-year extensions possible (2017-2021)
  • Contract value: around €14,000 per month
  • Parties involved: operational manager Martin Kas, in collaboration with the Financial Service Organisation (FSO)
  • Special details: attention to gender equality and diversity, and decent pay and working hours


Decent working hours and wages
In Costa Rica, people are not allowed to work more than 48 hours a week. But this is only the case on paper. Security guards sometimes work on several projects, or have a second job with another company. To prevent exploitation of security guards, the mission included a requirement in the procurement notice that employees would have to be issued with contracts not exceeding 48 hours a week, and would seldom be required to work overtime. They would also work exclusively for the embassy.
This proved successful: the current guards earn a decent salary, higher than the minimum wage. They all have an employment contract and work normal hours, with no double shifts. But when one of the security guards was spotted wearing the uniform of a different security firm, the embassy decided to give the supplier a good talking to. It turned out they were not aware he was moonlighting and took immediate action.

Diversity and gender equality
In order to create more job opportunities for women, the companies invited to submit tenders were asked to include a plan of action for achieving more diversity in their workforce.

"The team of guards should be as diverse as possible and companies will explain in their proposal how they strive to achieve a gender balance in the team.”

This criterion proved to be more of a bottleneck. The number of tenders received was disappointing, so that the embassy couldn’t be too choosy. The company that was awarded the contract stated that they were working on a better gender balance in their team, but that there are simply not enough women security guards. And the few women who do work in this sector seldom speak English – another procurement requirement.

Aandachtspunten en tips

  • Adapt your requirements to what is feasible locally. Otherwise you run the risk of receiving no bids at all.
  • Once the contract has been awarded, check that the supplier is complying with agreements. Ask for wage slips, and talk to the employees. Ask them whether they are being paid on time and whether they are required to work a second job. Find out if there are other issues.
  • Practise what you preach: when it comes to a living wage, BZ itself still has a way to go. An internal study showed that the salary scales for local staff at the San José embassy didn’t all comply with the norm. The mission is now ensuring that all local staff are paid at least a living wage.
  • To conclude: be aware that if BZ requires a supplier to pay its employees more than a competitive wage, they will probably be too expensive for the supplier to keep on once the contract with BZ ends. Paying a decent salary is a step in the right direction, but it would be a mistake to think that BZ has improved these people’s lives for good.