TL;DR – From disrespect to obsessively long overtime hours, security officers have a lot to put up with. Who’s guarding their welfare?
The security uncle you walked past this morning, the cleaners in your neighbourhood… Have you ever considered this – without the hard work of our essential service workers, Singapore would have come to a complete standstill during the Circuit Breaker period!
Marine Parade GRC MP and NTUC director, Mr Mohd Fahmi Aliman highlighted the point that many of these workers have bravely stepped up and continued their work as frontliners during the pandemic.
“This pandemic has made us re-think the social value of many jobs that society has not always viewed as important such as cleaners, security officers, waste management workers, and building maintenance personnel,” Mr Fahmi urged the Government to consider providing a higher Workfare Income Supplement payout to workers in the essential services to acknowledge their social value.
With the welfare of these workers in mind, the Government has implemented a Progressive Wage Model (PWM) to raise the income of some of these workers over the years.
But, are there really tangible results from the Progressive Wage Model (PWM)?
The PWM pegs workers’ wages to their skill and experience levels. Imagine a ladder where you have salary tiers. A worker has to climb rung by rung – upgrading their skills and increasing productivity levels. At the same time, their employers would commit to providing opportunities for employees’ career growth. Over time, the salaries of low-wage workers are raised as they go through skills upgrading and improvements to productivity. Win-win, isn’t it?
Indeed, wages of the 78,000 workers in the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors have gone up by about 30% from 2013 to 2018.
Over the years, many security officers, with training, have also been able to harness technologies such as mobile-enabled patrols and incident management, automated visitor management systems and on-site surveillance and analytics systems to improve productivity. Impressive much!
Yet, challenges continue to exist for these security officers.
Now, when was the last time you acknowledged your building’s security officer’s efforts?
707 security officers were polled between January and February this year. The survey conducted by the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) and the Union of Security Employees (USE), found that about one third of security officers in Singapore are subject to abuse! Older security officers received more abuse than their younger peers. We, as a society, should be embarrassed.
Many security officers also become “errand workers”, are overworked and have little rest between shifts!
No doubt about it – Singapore’s essential services workers deserve better. Better remuneration and more reasonable hours (come on, let’s admit that having someone work 95 hours of overtime hours is not all that decent). Yet, there are a handful of “black-sheep” security agencies that are merely profit-driven and don’t give two hoots about the brutally long hours that their officers have to endure.
Not just about the wages…
A chat with Uncle Ong, a security officer working at a CBD building, reveals the current shift patterns for Singapore’s security officers. Listen to this: Like many others in the industry, Uncle Ong works 12-hour a day, six days a week – this accumulates to 95 overtime hours a month! As this exceeds the 72-hour limit on overtime hours a month under the Employment Act, security agencies often apply for overtime exemption to meet their operational needs. Hmm, but wouldn’t there be security agencies exploiting this application for exemption then?
The fact remains that there is the need to improve the working conditions of security officers, especially in the reduction of excessive overtime. Why? One, the industry needs to attract more and younger Singaporeans to join the sector. Two, isn’t it rather callous to push these vulnerable workers to take on such obscenely long hours?
Well, how many of us have put in as many extra hours in our jobs in the past year? Errr… Let’s just say that these security officers definitely deserve less punishing hours and more work-life balance!
Guarding Our Security Officers’ Welfare
So, what can be done to improve the security industry? Union of Security Employees (USE) Executive Secretary, Mr Steve Tan, shared: “We in society, have to do a lot more. While security agencies needed to work with the union to support agency transformation, buyers of security services needed to change their mindsets as well.”
He added: “If we recognise that security officers are essential workers and that they do important work, let’s give them the respect that they deserve.”
Well-said! And definitely good to know that the USE has been guarding the welfare of our security officers over the years through many of their programmes.
The Road Ahead for The Security Industry
The good news is that, come January 2021, Uncle Ong, like many of his peers, will be able to enjoy 2 extra off days to rest and spend precious time with their families. Well-deserved! Sure, higher wages and reduced working hours may affect the bottom lines of security agencies BUT the changes are necessary to protect our low-wage workers.
Undeniably, much has been done for the vulnerable workers in our society over the last few years. But I think we can all agree that more can be done. Now, will society continue to look out for the welfare of this group of low-wage, overworked security officers? Or will we merely turn the other way?
(Cover Image Via)