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Mon 18 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Selling security: the ethical dilemmas

Suresh Kumar Nair, head of East Coast Security Services, discusses the path to a better future for the security sector.

The private security industry has assumed a remarkable posture as a business in the UAE and the objective of this industry is to reduce enterprise risks and maximise customer satisfaction.

The market needs of the private security industry in the UAE are associated with politeness, obedience, loyalty, intelligence, customer care and english language skills for its personnel.

But criticism is at large on the qualities of personnel employed by many security companies in the UAE and I would argue that the quality is struck with certain ethical dilemmas.

The identification of the private security industry as a professional body, particularly the regulations and training schemes initiated by Dubai Police, has helped to bring in a sense of seriousness among the security companies.

However, lack of pricing standards leads to unhealthy competition in the market. The cheaper service is sold faster and the expensive ones remain on the shelves. Consequently, more practical selling strategies are formulated and ultimately, the human resource involved in this industry is at the receiving end.

While a lot has been discussed on the training, development and expected standards on performance, no significant efforts were done to look at the reward and benefit schemes applied to the personnel in this service sector.

Security is vital to the communities and a holistic regulatory approach that involves human resource management and infrastructure standards would be more sensible.

Generally speaking, the private security industry in the UAE is crippled with long duty hours, disproportionate reward systems, extended commutation and cramped accommodation facilities. This 24/7, 365 days a year business mostly operates in two equal shifts of 12 hours each.

One could easily cite examples of many security guards continuously working for months with out a single day off. Ironically both the client and the company wants their security officers to be well built, tidy, vigilant and always pleasant. Both these objectives are seldom met and there is more than one reason for the under performance of security guards.

The one that tops the list is certainly the lack of standardised wages in this service sector. The companies trying to meet their financial goals adopt strategies where low paid expatriates are inducted into their pay rolls.

Most of these employees may not speak english and they even struggle to adjust to the environment at the client premises. Knowing these deficiencies themselves, many companies compromise on their pricing. Ultimately the low profit is carried onto the guards and many of their benefits are curtailed.

Being in the industry for more than a year in Dubai, I am also a party to this state of affairs but this incoherence between the expected performance standards and actual reward systems are the real ethical dilemmas in this industry.

Ethical dilemmas are common to all business. There could be ethical issues that are different to the nature of the business. These dilemmas often rest on many economic issues. The business establishment's aim is profit, while the personnel involved in it and the society at large place some expectations on that business.

In the service industry where human capital is crucial, the impact of unethical practices are more. However, there is a unanimity of opinion amongst the experts that these difficulties can be minimised by reducing the conflicts of value systems being followed, identifying the alternatives that are viable and to negate the consequences such issues impact on the people involved.

Looking at the security industry, I feel there is a scope for improvement.

Any regulatory steps towards prescribed infrastructure and definite management approaches for security providers, would elevate the working conditions of the guards. This would further help in bringing about a sustainable value system both inside the organisations and at the work place.

Facilities management companies aiming for a competitive edge should ensure the physical, psychological and professional fitness of security personnel before entering into any service level agreements with the security service providers.

In turn the security providers could utilise the new strata law to position their service and demand returns appropriate to their fiscal needs. Thus a synergy produced by the regulator bodies, facilities management companies and security providers would contribute to the improved objectivity in this service sector in UAE.

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