Opinion

It's unfair for MPs to block laws on private guards pay, welfare

It's unfair for MPs to block laws on private guards pay, welfare
  • I have heard some of these fly-by-the-wire security firms are owned or connected to politicians, and others to similarly unscrupulous types.

  • Heavy lobbying against the proposed regulations was done by these fellows until Parliament succumbed.

  • More tellingly, the committee insinuated that the suggested minimum wage targets could not be “practically” implemented within the envisaged period.

Last Monday, the Nation carried one of those touching stories that tug at your heart and make you wonder why the world is such an unfair place. It was a story about those wretched, neglected, poorly paid workers known as private security guards – or watchmen as we call them. Amid all the hue and cry over BBI, that is what caught my attention in the newspaper.

SH6,000

Security guards are a familiar and dejected sight who watch over downtown commercial buildings and gated residential properties, day and night. We barely give them a second thought as we go about our business. They observe us as we park our cars and enter glitzy restaurants and offices and perhaps question why life was unkind to some human beings yet shone brightly for others. It is a thankless job, often even a dangerous one, as these guards are at the frontline when armed gangsters strike. Life must be horrible for them with the ongoing torrential rains.

Yet they must work, huddling in the cold outside the premises they protect, enduring the harsh bites of mosquitoes, just so they can scrape a living for their families where there is no other alternative. The pay is pitiable, sometimes as low as Sh6,000 a month, which is less than half the official minimum wage of Sh13,572 per month.

THE REGULATIONS

Poverty makes people especially vulnerable to injustice. It is the primary role of government to act as the safeguard against this. Above all, Parliament, which poses as the voice and conscience of the people, should be at the forefront in standing up for the exploited and underprivileged. I was dismayed to learn that, culminating last month, the parliamentary Committee on Delegated Legislation chaired by Uasin Gishu Woman Rep Gladys Shollei, had trashed proposed legislation that would have improved the lot of private security guards and made their lives palatable. (The regulations were meant to operationalise the Private Security Regulation Act passed in 2016). The regulations would have established standards in employment and training of guards and the scope of cooperation between them and the police in the maintenance of law and order. Much better still, the minimum wage for a night guard was to be hiked to Sh27,993 and Sh25,641 for a day guard.

LOUSY TERMS

There exist proper security companies that we see transporting cash for banks or which install alarms and surveillance systems in various installations. Some of these also supply guards. A labour union representing the guards had informed the parliamentary committee that the foreign-owned companies – G4S, Wells Fargo, KK and Ultimate Security – had complied with the wage guidelines whereas local firms had not. I would hesitate to describe the latter as security firms. They are merely conveyor belts for the procurement of cheap labour which they ruthlessly exploit while charging clients handsomely for the service, the government oddly being among the biggest clients. There’s no job security. These are simply take-it-or-leave-it jobs. A guard will just as casually be told to take a walk if he as much as flinches at the lousy terms and work conditions.

HEAVY LOBBYING

I have heard some of these fly-by-the-wire security firms are owned or connected to politicians, and others to similarly unscrupulous types. Heavy lobbying against the proposed regulations was done by these fellows until Parliament succumbed. The reasons the particular parliamentary committee gave for scuttling the regulations were spurious. Aside from the contentious issue of power of arrest (and the likely abuse of it) by private guards, there was the excuse that the regulations breached the Constitution owing to that amorphous thing called ‘public participation’. It was deemed to have been insufficient. More tellingly, the committee insinuated that the suggested minimum wage targets could not be “practically” implemented within the envisaged period. All in all, the reforms were deemed defective. Blah, blah, blah.

SH690 MILLION

Think of your exalted self being a security guard: You never get a day off – or annual leave. You buy your own uniform and boots. Your salary frequently is paid weeks late. You walk to and from your slum abode because you can’t afford daily matatu fares. You have a family which needs school fees and upkeep. Gosh, why do we scream when the rogue elements among the guards become accomplices to robberies? Oh, and Treasury mandarins had better take a closer look. Of the estimated 500,000 personnel in the private security services countrywide, only about 40,000 guards are subjected to statutory tax remittances. That adds to something like Sh60 million monthly. If every guard was roped in and paid the correct salary, the tax revenues would shoot up to Sh690 million monthly, thereabouts.

SPARE A THOUGHT

Next time you are in town for a night out, spare a thought for that guard who approaches your car and offers to keep an eye on it as you enjoy yourself elsewhere. Gift him a little more than just the meagre loose coin.