Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
THOUSANDS OF private security guards could be added to the spiralling unemployment number as the National Housing Trust (NHT) bears down on struggling companies to which they are attached for millions of dollars in unpaid contributions over an unspecified period.
The NHT is contending that the more than 20,000 security guards are employees, the salaries from which statutory payments must be made.
But not so, argues the Jamaica Society for Industrial Security (JSIS), the umbrella group for 80 per cent of security firms across the island.
Asserting that the multibillion-dollar industry faces collapse from a move to change the status of private security guards from contracted workers to employees, the leadership of the JSIS has summoned its members to an emergency meeting on Wednesday at the Guardsman Group's Old Hope Road offices.
The operators of the vast majority of companies are insisting that their guards are responsible for their own statutory payments as they have been engaged as contractors and not as employees.
"The current relationship that exists between the guards and almost all of the security companies is that of a contractor," said Winston Barnes, JSIS vice-president.
"The cost that would be involved to change that relationship would be tremendous and cannot be assumed by the companies," he added.
Correspondence to the security companies from the NHT confirmed that Labour Minister Derrick Kellier has been engaged in talks with senior NHT personnel.
"As you may be aware, there are very serious matters which will have serious repercussions on the industry if we do not act now and decisively," wrote Barnes.
He told The Gleaner that "this will cause financial ruin of the industry and a drastic reduction in the employment of security guards".
Barnes added that if the demands contained in a letter from the NHT are to be met, companies would be forced to hike security rates by as much as 40 per cent, out of the reach of many of their clients in the private sector if they are to remain operational.
"Private-sector companies are already finding it difficult to cope with the high cost of security services," argued Barnes.
To make life more insecure for the companies, Barnes said government entities are delaying payments to the industry for up to six months in some instances.
"Some just don't pay over the funds," added Barnes. "How then would we be able to afford an increase and how would we be able to pay the statutory payments that would be due under the new arrangement?"
The Gleaner obtained correspondence that senior general manager of the NHT, Dr Lanie-Marie Oakley-Williams, in charge of customer relations at the NHT, dispatched to the management of the private security firms.
The letter stated that on June 25, the NHT, along with other agencies met with Kellier to discuss the relationship between security guards and their employers.
The letter further said all the relevant acts and decided cases were discussed. "It was agreed that the relationship between yourself and the security guards in your employ is that of a worker and employer.
"In light of this, the NHT will be enforcing Section 12 (1) of the NHT Act," Oakley-Williams stated in the letter which was copied to the Trust's Chairman Easton Douglas and Acting Managing Director Martin Miller.
The NHT also noted that given the enormity of the debt, Kellier had "proposed to dialogue with you in arriving at a mutual agreement to settle the indebtedness over a mutually acceptable period".
The Trust has invited the owners to a meeting on November 5 at its Park Boulevard offices. At the same time, it urged the companies to begin making monthly remittances of five per cent (two per cent from the employees and the matching three per cent employers' portion).