Unions challenge outsourcing of Enforcement Officers

September 12, 2012

The controversy over the appointment of enforcement officers from a private security company by Newry and Mourne District Council continues to gather momentum, following the publication of an open letter, signed by five Trade Unions, which outlines the Unions’ “grave concerns” at the potential impact on Council employees.

The Examiner understands that a meeting took place on Thursday between Council officials and Trade Union representatives, at which concerns were raised about the perceived ‘privatisation’ of public services and the consequent threat to jobs.

It has emerged that Protec Safe Door and Event Management Ltd., the company engaged to carry out certain enforcement duties related to dog fouling, littering and tobacco control – which were previously performed solely by Council workers- is believed to be owned by Councillor Brendan Curran, a fact that has caused further consternation among Union members.

However, Union representatives have said that their concerns are not simply because a Councillor is providing staff for these roles, but that any outside company has been contracted, in favour of employing additional staff or utilising existing Council workers.

The Council had previously claimed, in a statement via its Facebook page, that, as part of a three month pilot scheme, it had “engaged a local company to provide additional support to augment the existing environmental enforcement service” and that these additional personnel had been employed “at no extra cost to the ratepayer.” This statement is challenged by Unions, who want to know how this could possibly be the case, when Protec is believed to be receiving an undisclosed percentage of each fine issued, in addition to an hourly rate.

The Examiner understands that it is Council policy, wherever possible, to protect existing staff members and redeploy those at risk of redundancy.  On the Council’s Facebook page, there are claims that staff refused to do the job they were contracted to do, but the Unions have asserted that existing staff were not given the opportunity to fulfil these additional duties.

The issue of staffing at public events, like concerts and parades, also previously the remit of Council staff,  has also been raised, with claims that there is no evidence of tendering these roles and that the same private security company secures most, if not all, of these contracts.

Concerns have also been expressed over the manner in which Protec staff are carrying out their enforcement duties, with members of the public taking to the Council’s Facebook page to air their grievances over alleged incidents of intimidating behaviour, by some staff towards the public.

The Examiner has also learned that some Councillors had initially expressed reservations about enforcement duties being outsourced, but they may not have been in receipt of all the available information when the proposal was agreed.

At the time of going to press, Newry and Mourne District Council had not released any comment on the outcome of Thursday’s meeting or the future of the controversial pilot scheme.