Mon | May 29, 2017

Security guards overworked and underpaid

Published:Sunday | September 20, 2015 | 9:00 AM
Security guards working in masks amid heavy smoke swirling from the Riverton City landfill in St Andrew.

A study assessing the local private-security sector has found that more than half the employees are unable to take care of their basic needs on the salaries they are paid and are working in difficult conditions.

The study was done by a former community development officer with the Social Development Commission, Deborah Fletcher, who found that while security guards on contract stood a better chance of increasing their salaries by working for longer hours, they often had to deal with poor non-wage working conditions.

According to Fletcher, several security guards reported high levels of stress, fatigue, and pain in the shoulder and upper and lower limbs. They also work without benefits such as sick leave and vacation leave with pay.

"Despite the fact that guards have access to health insurance, most guards argue that sick leave with pay is a myth in most instances," said Fletcher.

"Linked to this, both male and female security guards claim that female guards cannot afford to get pregnant, given the nature of their job," she said.

Fletcher's study was done in 2008, when there were 212 private security companies and approximately 12,000 security guards working in Jamaica; however, according to the most recent Economic and Social Survey, there are now 328 registered private security companies islandwide, with a combined total of 21,551 security guards employed.

Of the 63 security guards from Kingston and St Andrew who were surveyed by Fletcher, only 37 per cent said they were able to take care of their basic needs on the salary they received.

Just about 43 per cent of those who were barely able to or unable to take care of their basic needs earned between $19,000 to $25,000 fortnightly after working at least 69 hours per week. Another 35 per cent indicated that they took home between $12,000 to $18,000 fortnightly.

Based on Fletcher's study, there has been no significant change in the salary for security guards in the last seven years as they are now getting about $2,698 more than they were in 2008 for a 40-hour workweek.

The Minimum Wage Advisory Commission is currently reviewing the minimum wage for security guards as well as the national minimum wage. The minimum wage for security guards was last increased from $7,320.40 to $8,198 per 40-hour workweek in January 2014.