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Guards could get windfall for underpayment over years

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 18, 2019

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SECURITY guards who have been short-changed by their employers could receive retroactive payments, if the Government takes on a recommendation being made by Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC).

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) Colette Roberts-Risden has been asked to further advise the committee of the ministry's position on the matter.

Committee members agreed at yesterday's meeting that restitution should be made where the ministry has found companies to be in breach of security guards' wage contracts.

The ministry had confirmed public complaints made by the Jamaica Society for Industrial Security (JSIS) that security guards employed to some companies which have Government contracts were not being paid according to specified industry allowances.

The JSIS claimed that guards employed to at least two such companies are being short-changed a combined total of $8,096 per fortnight or just over $210,400 per year.

JSIS president Lt Commander George Overton had written to the PAAC last month asking for its intervention as the labour ministry had failed to respond to its complaints.

On this basis, the committee asked the ministry to conduct a survey of all security companies which have contracts with the Government to determine whether these breaches were occurring.

At yesterday's meeting, Roberts-Risden said the report from those investigations were only now at a preliminary stage, but she confirmed that some companies have been found to be in breach.

“The breaches, in terms of the companies not paying the appropriate wages, exist; our report certainly validates what he said. By and large, companies do pay the single rate but they have not been paying the overtime rate; some companies do pay (for) the holiday. [But] we do get complaints from time to time from individual security guards regarding underpayments or benefits that they have not received,” she said, noting that over the past six months there have been 10 such matters before the courts. “When we do get the complaints from the individual security guards it is a matter that we take seriously and we pursue the matter in court.

Roberts-Risden said inspection teams had visited 14 companies, and have validated the concerns about wages.

She said the companies that are in breach have been ordered to immediately correct those breaches, and that the ministry on Monday started issuing letters to that effect.

Meanwhile, Overton stated that the private security industry's viability is under threat due to heightened and unethical competition, based mainly on pricing of services.

“The industry today, in my opinion, is in a race to the bottom because we no longer are competing on quality. The purchasers of security are no longer purchasing on quality. It is all driven by price, and if you look at the weightings that are given to the tender review process, a significant portion of the points which causes you to win the tender are on price. Therefore, companies in the market have used illegal means, creative means, unethical means to reduce their costs so that they can go to market with a much lower price,” Overton stated.

He told the PAAC that as a result of this price-driven focus, there has been an emergence of less recognised companies that are winning the majority of large tenders, particularly Government contracts. He stressed that a lot of the cost-saving efforts by these companies have been to the detriment of the guards who work for them.

The JSIS is a union of companies operating in the private security industry with a mandate to promote best practices and good order for the viability of the industry. Its membership comprises 28 companies, representing more than 60 per cent of the guard force across the island. Some 22,000 persons are engaged in the direct delivery of security services.

Roberts-Risden gave the undertaking that the ministry would be conducting inspection follow-ups with the companies that have been operating outside the law, and will meet with representatives of the companies named in the associations' complaint, as well as the Private Security Regulatory Authority, and the JSIS, to discuss the issues.

The PAAC says it will further make recommendations that the process of procurement for security services to the Government be reviewed, so that it is made clear in policy and tender documents that companies bidding for contract must be in full compliance with laws affecting workers, such as the Minimum Wage Act.


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