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Conferences, 2006, Security, Urbanization

World Cup 2010: Privatizing Security in South Africa (G4S)

In April 2007 a global fact finding team from different unions went to South Africa, Malawi and Mozambique to find out about the employment practices of the global player "Group 4 Securicor (G4S)". The team interviewed G4S workers, their family, union leaders and government officials about the security company's practises - they found serious violations of labor laws and blatant racism.

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G4S has a huge footprint in Africa. It is the single largest multinational corporation operating on the continent, with more than 82,000 employees. It has operations in 18 African nations. It is hard not to overstate its importance.

For a detailed account of their findings see the attached undefinedPDF (Who protects the guards?).

To stop this violations they

Urge organisers of the London Olympics and the South Africa World Cup to withhold any favourable consideration of the company as a contractor until it commits to change its practices and improve its global track record

We choose the opportunity to ask one of the fact finding mission's members a couple of questions:

 

Interview with Bill Ragen, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), on the Fact Finding Mission in Southern Africa in April 2007

 Bill Ragen

policing crowds: Bill, you have been with a Fact Finding Mission team in Southern Africa visiting South Africa, Malawi, and Mozambique. What has been the initial reason to go there?

Bill Ragen: My union, SEIU, is part of a global campaign organized by UNI Global Union to raise standards for property services workers around the world. The largest employer in this industry is the security company G4S. We heard reports of many problems faced by G4S workers in southern Africa and organized a fact-finding trip to the region to see for ourselves.

policing crowds: In your report you are writing about "Racism: alive and well". The world market leader in private security does not know that apartheid is over?

Bill Ragen: I guess not. It was really shocking to hear about such things happening in South Africa. But we have heard about problems with G4S in countries around the world, so I guess we should not have been too surprised.

policing crowds: In addition to that, the living conditions of the security workers are unbearable even though the Southern African market is more than profitable for Group 4 Securicor (G4S). Can you give just a few examples for our readers, please.

Bill Ragen: In Malawi, we met guards who work 12 hours per day and seven days per week. They told us of going for years without a single day off. In addition, the overtime pay they receive is only half of their regular pay. G4S pays them a regular amount for the first eight hours and then only half that hourly amount for the next four hours. In other words, for a twelve-hour shift they are paid for only ten hours. G4S is the largest security company in Malawi – over half of the guards in that country work for G4S – so G4S cannot complain that they are following local conditions. They make the conditions.

policing crowds: The Mozambique government tried to support its citizens against G4S as the company was unwilling to pay severance payments to its workers. In the end, G4S overruled the government's decision. Can you briefly describe the case and its end results?

Bill Ragen: G4S lost a contract to provide security at the US Embassy. The law entitled the guards to severance pay, but the company has refused to pay. According the Helena Taipo, the Labour Minister of Mozambique, “G4S believes it is above the law. It refuses to follow our laws.”

policing crowds: The Football World Championship is to happen in South Africa by 2010. Which steps will the "Alliance for Justice at Group 4 Securicor" take to support the security workers in their respective struggles? And what are you expecting others to do to pressurize G4S to stick to the national rules and regulations in the countries you were visiting?

Bill Ragen: When we were in South Africa, a delegation of UNI unions met with FIFA in Johannesburg. We have called on FIFA to use contractors that respect basic human rights, including the right to a union. At a press conference afterwards, South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union general secretary Randall Howard said, "G4S must know, if they continue their abuses ... we will make sure they do not see a god-darned contract in 2010. They will not see it; they will not smell it."

policing crowds: Has there been any response to your report by G4S so far?

Bill Ragen: So far, G4S refuses to meet with UNI to negotiate a global agreement. On the other hand, in the past few months it has begun to take steps to recognize unions, sign collective agreements and otherwise address problems in several African countries. We take this as a sign that our campaign is working.

policing crowds: What will be your next steps?

Bill Ragen: The progress in Africa shows that we are on the right track, but we need an agreement that covers all G4S workers. We will not be satisfied solving this problem country by country. In May, we issued a report about the situation in Africa. We did this in London (where G4S has its headquarters). We are working with trade union and NGO leaders in the UK to make sure that only responsible contractors win contracts for the London Olympics in 2012. And we are making plans for a legal fund in Africa that will support workers who are being short-changed by G4S.

policing crowds: Bill, thank you for the interview.