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Deborah Fletcher: Security guards suffering

Published:Sunday | September 20, 2015 | 9:00 AMDeborah Fletcher

I write in response to an article published in The Sunday Gleaner dated September 13, 2015. The article speaks to issues relating to the increased competition in the private security market, which has forced some private security companies to keep the remuneration of guards as close as possible to the minimum wage in order to remain competitive.

I conducted a study in 2008, which focused on the topic 'Work: With Specific Focus on Security Guards in Jamaica'. At the time of the study, there were 212 private security companies operating in the country. Approximately 12,000 security guards worked with those companies, making the security industry one of the fastest-growing sectors in Jamaica. (As of last year, there were more than 320 security companies and 21,000 security guards). For the purpose of the study, 63 security guards from the parishes of Kingston and St Andrew were surveyed to examine the conditions under which they worked.

In some instances, security guards are referred to as subcontractors. As such, they do not have access to benefits such as vacation, maternity and education leave with pay. Some benefits (when accepted and implemented by employers) give employees a sense of satisfaction on the job. Recognising that employee satisfaction with working conditions/environment affects productivity positively or negatively, existing secondary data were analysed and focused interviews conducted in order to assess the wage and non-wage concerns of security guards.

The findings revealed that security guards employed on a contractual basis tend to work under poor, non-wage working conditions when compared with security guards who are non-contractors (workers). As such, contractors tend not to be very satisfied with the conditions under which they work and tend to experience greater levels of stress and fatigue.

WORKER-CONTRACTOR WAGE ISSUES

The study sought to find out whether workers or contractors were better able to take care of their basic needs. All (100 per cent) workers reported that they were able to take care of their basic needs, while 37.2 per cent of the contractors said they were able to take care of their basic needs. Fifty-one per cent said no, and the remaining 11.8 per cent indicated that they were barely able to take care of their basic needs.

The study shows that among those who indicated that they were either barely able or not able to take care of their basic needs, 43 per cent were earning between $19,000 and $25,000 fortnightly. Another 35 per cent indicated that they earned between $12,000 and $18,000 fortnightly.

Those who indicated that they took home between $19,000 and $25,000 had to work at least 69 hours per week (working at least 29 hours at double time) in order to take home that amount. Seven years later (2015), security guards are taking home J$$2,698 more than they were in 2008 ($8,198 for a 40-hour workweek).

NON-WAGE ISSUES

The security guards surveyed reported being faced with the following non-wage issues:

- Poor relationship with management. Some security guards explained that management often "talk down to us [employees]" (Kameisha, 2008). Guards have also argued that measures are implemented by management without first consulting with them.

- Disrespect. Some security guards speak about the level of disrespect meted out to them by clients and customers of different organisations. Isaac noted that "people look down on security guards, they don't value us, dem no respect we."

- Clients refuse to honour the request of management. Williams explained that sometimes the "company makes requests to clients so that we can work comfortable, but some clients are unwilling". Matthew confirmed that some clients are not prepared to adhere to the requests made by the security company. Some of these requests include proper security post, bathroom facilities and lunch areas.

- Inability to secure vacation leave with pay. Among those surveyed, only 26 per cent reported that they took vacation leave. One reason given for not taking any form of leave was 'No work no pay, family caana survive'. Those respondents who went on leave were off for no more than seven days, while others reported taking a day or two without making a formal request.

- Limited access to sick leave. Despite the fact that guards have access to health insurance, most guards argue that sick leave with pay is a myth in most instances. Notwithstanding this, the guards explained that if one becomes injured on the job, he/she can access sick leave with pay. Linked to this, both male and female security guards highlight that female guards cannot afford to get pregnant given the nature of their job.

Essentially, the survey revealed that persons employed on contracts on the one hand tend to experience poor, non-wage working conditions, they report higher levels of stress and fatigue, pains in the shoulder upper and lower limbs, and suffer a lack of benefits such as sick leave and vacation leave with pay, longer working hours.

Given that contractors work for longer hours, they have a better chance of increasing their take-home salary. Nevertheless, non-contractors (workers), on the other hand, tend to experience better non-wage and wage working conditions.

- Deborah Fletcher is a holder of an MSc in sociology and a pending MPA in global e-policy and e-governance. She worked previously as a community development officer with the Social Development Commission. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and deborahfletch@yahoo.com.