Issue 2 2020 Education (Industry)

I’m far from being a fundi when it comes to all this social media stuff, but I guess you know you’ve hit the big-time when you get your own hashtag. In late 2015, the #FeesMustFall movement attained this status, and after an initial flurry of protest action, was revived again the next year. Although the primary objective of this student-led movement was to have their tuition fees reduced, it also led to the need to rethink how security was managed, and would continue to be managed, at universities and other educational institutions, with demands being made about in-sourcing and unionising their security forces.

Derek Huebsch.

That happens to be the crux of a mandate given to Derek Huebsch, the Campus Protection Society of Southern Africa’s (Camprosa) former president. He shared with us the findings of an investigative report he conducted on the subject as the then director of protection services at Nelson Mandela University (NMU).

Investigation necessary

“The need for me to conduct the investigation and prepare such report was born from the in-sourcing route taken and with a view to what would be necessary to ensure service delivery going forward, the effects that shift pattern changes could have, cost implications and other negatives and possible benefits.

“In essence my findings were that this, together with the movement towards a more technological and automated solution, driven by an effective electronic management system, could and should lead to a reduction in physical guarding numbers but that this could only be done over a period of time (I suggested three to five years) given that current in-sourced personnel would need to be up-skilled and trained – some in specialised areas of technological support to ensure an effective shift to a technology-driven solution,” Huebsch explains.

Besides any additional costs around the shift change system, the added cost of such training and funding for appropriate technology would need extra budget, there would need to be a transition period and when carrying out the envisaged physical staff reduction, the implications and prescriptions of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) would dictate. Could those found redundant just be removed; would they possibly need to be reassigned; what were the legal and socioeconomic implications?

“If one looks back and takes into consideration, especially within the tertiary education environment that was first to be hit with the in-sourcing which at the time was part of the #FeesMustFall movement, it was clear that two things would happen,” he says.

Those things were, firstly, that institutions deciding to in-source would need to find extra funding, possibly at the cost of other projects, research or development, and this at a time when anti-colonialism was also an issue leading to possible curriculum changes being necessary. Secondly was the question of private security companies that provided universities with contracted physical security and some with technological support to a large extent, now being faced with the loss of such business. In many instances some of these companies would be losing their largest contracts, placing financial constraints on them as well.

Thorough research

As is the nature of any good security manager, Huebsch took nothing for granted and conducted exhaustive research in order to prepare a provisional report on the shift change proposal for protection services staff at the Nelson Mandela University, early last year. The basis of the report was to benchmark existing trends within industry as applied within the business environment as well as at tertiary institutions.

In particular, thought and consideration was given to the existing 12-hour shift system being replaced by an 8-hour shift system, with the intention of aligning with the LRA as well as accepted work hours applied at other tertiary institutions. Here are some of the key points to come out of that report:

Benchmarking exercise

The benchmarking Huebsch performed included feedback from four reputable South African universities: University of Cape Town (UCT), North West University (NWU), Stellenbosch University and University of South Africa (UNISA). The primary areas of feedback requested were as follows:

• Whether an 8-hour or less shift system was being utilised and what the actual hours of work were.

• A copy of the current shift system.

• Number of staff prior to and after having changed to such shift system.

• What benefits such change brought about.

• Any associated problems experienced and how these were being addressed.

The next step was to engage with and obtain similar input from private security service providers who would be responsible to deliver services aligned with clients’ requirements and their specific sets of work-related circumstances, either industrial, administrative or commercial. Information was gathered from various such role players within the field of physical guarding as well as training towards deployment.

It was found that the current industry norm remained that of provision aligned within two areas of demand: physical guarding and supervision on a 12-hour shift basis, as well as management on an 8-hour basis which extends to an after-hours standby basis to provide for response to and addressing of problems experienced and reported on or concerns raised by clients. In assessing the current approach, Huebsch engaged with Omega Risk Solutions and Metro Security, which are two of the companies most directly involved in diverse security service delivery in the Eastern Cape and which also specialise in special events.

Information gathered was used to compare with the current approach at Nelson Mandela University to look at, consider and propose the best possible practice, taking into consideration all the pros and cons as well as current industry trends to adopt and keeping in mind that unions within the sector were applying pressure on government to work towards a 40-hour work week.


It was found that the move to a four-shift system provided for compliance with both LRA and university HR policy in respect of hours worked.

• Scope was created to free up in-house staff on a suitable rest day cycle, allowing for a substantial pool to be created that could be called on to address any potential short-posting on a short-term or special-events basis.

• Such pool would provide for a better and more substantial basis in the vision of creating enterprise development that is beneficial to employer and employee alike.

• There would be little need to depend on the utilisation of external security resources to address short postings and special events.


The following negatives were concerns that needed to be considered, irrespective of which shift cycle or hours of work are applicable:

• Shift cycle employees would no longer benefit from overtime hours accumulated on a 12-hour work cycle.

• What would employee and union response to this be?

• Would the fact that such shift system creates additional scope for overtime be seen as a positive?

• Consideration needed to be given to the employment of additional officers to accommodate the four-shift system

• The establishment of a four-shift system would add to cost in respect of transport for the fourth shift cycle.

• If additional personnel was not an option, would it be possible, practical and viable to reduce current three-shift deployment numbers to create a four-shift system?

Additional concerns

Long-term absenteeism due to illness, maternity or extended vacation leave could still require external security service provider support, given that the Private Security Act requires that any person deployed needs to be registered with and have the necessary competency certification. Deployment of persons without having sufficient in-house resources requires replacement staff being sourced and provided by duly registered and recognised private security service groups.

Another point of importance to note was that of the knock-on effect of the fourth shift which would lead to additional transport costs, as would the deployment of off-duty officers for special events or other overtime deployment operational purposes. These costs would need to be included in the service delivery cost provided to clients requiring such service.

Special event deployment

The current industry norm was to utilise officers taken from a central pool who all hold the necessary special event certification as prescribed by PSIRA legislation. The reason being that such events normally require large numbers being deployed over short periods of time, such as with single-day sporting events or concerts. Private security service provider companies prefer this approach to reduce cost and keep overheads low. Over the years NMU has experienced this when working with multiple service providers at special events – it was frequently found that the bulk of officers deployed were deployed on an ad hoc basis and just changed uniforms.

Even large sporting stadiums on a national basis employ a similar approach by entering contractual agreements that provide for a small deployment group who are attached to the day-to-day stadium facility protection and would hold a second contractual agreement for special event deployment of large numbers on match day only.

Another way in which such service providers keep costs low is that when utilising special event deployment officers from such an existing central pool, they prepare pay packets with such officers receiving the day’s remuneration on completion of the shift.

Many companies, anticipating client demands for additional deployment numbers, have standing agreements with recognised security training academies, drawing on their resource list of recently trained and certificated officers. It is, however, important that irrespective of being a private security service company or in-house security group, it is essential to keep abreast of and comply with the Private Security Act and applicable legislation – failure to do so would lead to hefty fines and possible legal action.

“I actively engaged with a number of contract security providers in the local area to make provisions for eventualities such as strikes and student protest actions, so to stay in line with our financial restrictions I would tell them our anticipated requirements and ascertain what the associated costs would be. During my time at NMU we frequently had to fall back on those contingency plans,” Huebsch says.

The roles of people and technology

Whether or not it’s affordable for an institution to in-house its entire security operation or rather rely on a contractor, it’s essential to appoint an in-house manager to coordinate and ensure that the service delivery is up to scratch. Huebsch’s investigation revealed that companies appointed from outside institutions were not properly performing such basic roles as incident reports and follow-up investigations. It is therefore essential that your security nucleus is in place, and that nucleus should preferably be from within the institution itself.

He also identified that, as with any other organisation, technology plays an increasingly important role. However, he was adamant that the best and most appropriate technology could not be put in place within a one to two year timescale, but rather on the order of three to five years. Having the right technology in place is not enough on its own, he asserts: “This must be supported by properly trained and equipped people to back the system up, because backup and support is always going to be necessary and you need to be able to drive and manage everything online. It’s easier said than done, but it’s vital to find the happy medium between physical security and technology. It’s very important for security staff to understand what the actual objectives are and the bigger picture.”

Remuneration and the bigger picture

“On the question of whether private security officers, working for external security companies, have been and are still being given ‘the short end of the stick’: having dealt with numerous contract service groups and employees over my 20 years as a client contract manager, I have to say that had the situation been different, had private security officers gotten a better monthly income, better and more appropriate benefits as part of their contract employment, we may not have been faced with the in-sourcing débâcle,” Huebsch states.

He adds that the security industry, through its union representation, has to continue working towards bargaining for improved salaries and benefits. That is a controversial point as it would weigh heavily on private security companies, especially the smaller ones, but it must be recognised that with a private security force much larger than the SAPS, with a large requirement for protection of assets, Huebsch posits that if poorly paid officers are being deployed, are we not adding to the problem and placing such assets meant to be protected at greater risk?

“So yes, I personally believe that a better salary and improved benefits is necessary. If one looks at the various private security companies I am quite sure that it would be found that those who are paying above PSIRA suggested rates do not suffer such a large staff turnover and also enjoy a firmer contractual footprint with their client base.

“Lastly, I would just like to say that should out-sourcing continue – which is not a bad thing as I believe it creates employment opportunities – the management of such contract workforce and its success within the environment it would be operating in is highly dependent on the contract and operational management thereof, irrespective of it being in- or out-sourced or jointly managed by both an in-house manager and service contract manager. It would be necessary to establish the lines of operation and ensure that such a co-management situation is clearly defined and functional.”

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