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Ministry findings confirm guards being short-changed - Legal action threatened against companies found in breach

Published:Thursday | April 18, 2019 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

An investigation by the Ministry of Labour has “validated” a complaint by the Jamaica Society of Industrial Security (JSIS) that just over a dozen private security companies are engaged in practices that short-change individual guards just over $5,000 per fortnight, or $175,000 a year.

President of JSIS, Lt Cmdr George Overton, in explaining the lost wages, charged that some companies, mainly new players in the private security industry, “pay absolutely no allowances” to their guards while others have placed a cap on allowances that should be paid for every hour worked.

Overton indicated, too, that a JSIS investigation found that guards employed to at least one company have been classified as “security specialists” and are being paid below the national minimum wage.

He revealed, as an example, that the JSIS probe found cases where companies have capped the laundry allowance paid to each guard at 80 hours per fortnight despite the fact that the guard may have worked far more hours over the period.

“That is at the mild infraction end. But on the extreme end of it, we have found companies operating that pay absolutely no allowances,” he told lawmakers on the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament yesterday.

“This is a minimum wage worker that you are denying $175,000 a year,” said the president of JSIS, a grouping of 28 private security firms that employ over 22,000 guards.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour Collette Roberts-Risden, who was summoned to appear before the PAAC to respond to the complaints, acknowledged that “our report certainly validates what he has said”.

The report Roberts-Risden referred to was the preliminary findings of an investigation conducted by the ministry that targeted 14 companies.

The permanent secretary went further, telling lawmakers that some companies do not pay their guards for overtime work.

She said that her office has since written to the companies, highlighting the breaches that were found and warned of legal action.

“Our officers will be conducting follow-up inspections to ensure compliance, and where appropriate, we will pursue legal action if the companies continue to be in breach,” said Roberts-Risden.

Director of legal services at the labour ministry Camille Bennett-Campbell told the PAAC that Section Five of the Minimum Wage Act empowers the ministry to pursue criminal proceedings before the parish court, where it has been determined that someone has been paid below the minimum wage.

“Going forward, we are going to be utilising criminal sanctions a lot,” Bennett-Campbell warned.

According to her, the conviction applies to all directors, agents, and servants of the company found to be in breach of the law and attracts a penalty of a $100,000 fine for each offence.

Roberts-Risden said that the labour ministry is still investigating claims by the JSIS that companies flouting the law by paying their guards less than the minimum wage are still being contracted by government ministries, departments, and agencies.