Sun | Sep 22, 2019

Modern slavery - Lawmakers blast security companies for shafting guards, prosecution on the cards

Published:Thursday | May 23, 2019 | 12:18 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Mikael Phillips
Mikael Phillips

All but one of the nearly three dozen private security firms contracted by government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) are flouting the law either by short-changing their guards or not making maternity payments to females, an investigation by the labour ministry has found.

Worse yet, the labour ministry revealed that seven companies, including one contracted by the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, ignored its request to produce records for inspection.

“Three did not allow the labour officers to access their premises, three allowed access to their premises but failed to grant access to their records, and [the principals of] one could not be found,” the ministry said in a report submitted to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament.

“One company, MICA Security, has been visited three times and had still failed to produce records,” it added.

The other six companies listed are Eliteguard Services, Action Security, MZ Holdings Security, Comfort Security, Border Security, and Modern Investigation.

The report revealed, too, that Eliteguard, Action, and Comfort were among six companies contracted to MDAs that were not registered with the Private Security Regulation Authority, which regulates the industry. Alpha Security, Bunker Security, and Metrodade Security were the others.

Between April 4 and May 21 this year, 31 companies were providing security services to MDAs.

However, the labour ministry said inspections conducted by its officers revealed that 17 companies “were not compliant with the payment of maternity leave; 18 companies were not compliant with the payment of sick leave; and 17 companies were not compliant with the payment of vacation leave”.

Further, the ministry said it found that five companies were paying their guards below the prescribed minimum wage of $242.50 per hour; 22 companies were not paying the time-and-a-half rate for overtime; 13 companies were not paying the double-time rate; six were not paying laundry allowance; four were not paying firearm allowance; five were not paying K-9 allowance; while four companies were non-compliant with paid lunchtime.

Colete Roberts-Risden, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, told lawmakers on the PAAC that the breaches were pointed out to the delinquent companies but indicated that follow-up inspections conducted this month have shown that the warnings have largely been ignored.

“From the information gathered by the ministry from follow-up inspections, there was no change in the rate of compliance among the companies with respect to salary and allowance,” Roberts-Risden noted in the report.

The findings incensed some lawmakers, who noted that in some instances, the private security firms are being paid millions of dollars by taxpayers.

“Seventeen companies were not compliant with the payment of maternity leave … . This is what I would term modern-day slavery here in Jamaica,” lamented opposition PAAC member Mikael Phillips.

“Maternity leave is something that is on the law books of this country. These companies are taking advantage of those who probably can’t do any better … and that’s why it is painful,” he added.

Fitz Jackson, another opposition member of the committee, was “flabbergasted” and offered a suggestion to help correct the breaches.

“Follow the money. Stop the payment and you find the owners immediately,” he suggested.

“You don’t need anybody running around … . If you stop the payment this week, they come to you, not you going to them,” Jackson added.

Government member Leslie Campbell went further, suggesting that delinquent companies be prosecuted.

“Why aren’t you prosecuting the entire field?” he questioned.

“You see when fire bun you once and you see fire again, you nuh put back you hand pan it. May I suggest you take that approach? No discretion,” he insisted.

“I am saddened at the numbers I see here,” he said of the report.

Roberts-Risden said the ministry intends to take legal action against all the companies found in breach but said that before that is done, steps have to be taken to put the cases together.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com