CONTRACT security staff at UK ports will have to be licensed by the Security Industry Authority from March 20, despite opposition by operators on cost grounds.
But an exemption may be granted to guards at passenger terminals, many of whom work on a seasonal basis.
Transec, the transport security directorate of the Department for Transport, has also asked the SIA to waive licensing for airside security personnel.
However, the authority has yet to reach a decision on either case.
The security staff issue is understood to have been debated recently at the National Maritime Security Committee, a secretive body that Transec uses to liaise with the ports and shipping industries.
Membership of the NMSC is not made public, although a number of leading maritime sector trade associations, including the Chamber of Shipping and the UK Major Ports Group, are thought to send representatives to its twice-yearly meetings.
Ports representatives present called for a general exemption from the licensing rules, fearing that they will prove costly, but were turned down.
However, they were successful in having passenger terminals declared a special case, and Transec agreed to raise the issue with the SIA.
The SIA was formed in response to concern over infiltration by criminal elements into the private security industry, which employs anything up to 500,000 people in Britain. Under the Private Security Industry Act 2001, most security guards need to be licensed. This entails checks on criminal records, age and the right to work in the UK. Exemptions can be granted where procedures in place already provide stringent checks, as is the case for airside employees.
Security guards employed directly be private companies including port operators are also exempt.
But contract personnel seeking to work in the industry must pay GBP190 ($338) for a licence, although in practice, contract security companies are likely to meet the cost.
Port representatives on the NMSC maintained that the additional cost would inevitably be passed on. The current breakdown between in-house and contract security personnel in Britain's ports is not known.
However, there has been a turn towards contract staff in recent years, with the demise of the traditional port police forces in many places.
Port industry sources speculate that the trend could now reverse, as the new situation provides an incentive to take direct charge.
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