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Slashing patrol pay 

Sweden's Securitas squeezes out Canada's Commissionaires as the city's parking cops.

Here we go again: Multinational giant outbids Canadian outfit and workers take a hefty pay cut. Except that's a deep, dark secret you're not supposed to know. In this case, the workers are the 10 to 12 parking enforcement officers who patrol Halifax streets. For the past 40 years, they've been wearing the uniform of the Corps of Commissionaires, a non-profit outfit set up in 1925. It traditionally employs war veterans, retired military people, former RCMP officers and others with indirect connections to the military and police. Last month, the Corps lost the contract to enforce the parking laws in downtown Halifax to Securitas Canada, the Canadian arm of the world's largest security company with headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden. Securitas has about 250,000 employees in more than 30 countries while the Corps is solidly Canadian with 19,000 workers nationwide.

When the news broke last week that city administrators had awarded the parking contract to Securitas, the mainstream media overlooked a crucial question: What would it mean for the officers who put in 40-hour weeks trudging downtown streets writing parking tickets? Most of them will continue doing the job wearing Securitas uniforms. Same job with less pay, although it took three solid days to find that out. It seems that what the parking officers get paid is a state secret. The city won't say, claiming that pay rates are the private concern of whichever outfit wins the contract. Securitas refused to talk, saying I should ask the city. When I phoned the Corps of Commissionaires to inquire what the workers had been getting paid, I was told that was none of my business. Secrecy reigns in the murky world of security. I suspect that's because no one wants you to know that the parking officers are paid shit for a job that requires special constable status and that carries certain risks such as being punched or spat on by irate parking violators.

Behind the scenes, there are various stories circulating at city hall about pay rates. The most credible one goes like this: As of last May, the Corps was paying the parking officers $9.88 per hour. Then, it raised the hourly rate to the $12.50 the officers now earn. However, when Securitas takes over September 1, the officers will be rolled back to $11 per hour. Someone at city hall is apparently telling politicians that the officers will actually be better off because Securitas provides medical and dental benefits. But the officers will have about $15 deducted from every pay cheque to help cover the cost of these benefits. That's on top of the $1.50 per hour they're losing under the new contract. Their $11 hourly rate translates into $440 per week or $22,880 a year before taxes and other deductions---not much pay for the revenue the city receives. Last year, parking fines generated about $3.5 million, most of it from the downtown foot patrols. The city's contract with the Corps of Commissionaires cost only $300,000. A security industry insider says Securitas probably promised to generate even more revenue. If so, the officers would be expected to work harder for less pay.

Unfortunately, this is what happens when employers contract work out to private companies. The contract usually goes to the lowest bidder who cuts costs by paying workers less. The workers either lose their jobs or have to accept the pay cuts. It happened four years ago at the University of King's College when unionized cleaners making $9.25 an hour lost their jobs after a non-union company paying minimum wages won the cleaning contract. Some of the cleaners had worked at King's for more than 20 years. Members of faculty raised a stink, but the deal went through anyway. After all, business is business, even at such proud public institutions as King's and the city of Halifax, whose motto, "wealth from the sea" boasts of its enduring prosperity.

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