Security companies continue to breach labour laws

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, May 23, 2019

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A number of companies which provide industrial security services to the Government continue to operate in breach of the law governing wages and benefits for security guards, ignoring warnings from the labour ministry.

Of the 31 companies which provide services to the various Government ministries, agencies and departments, the ministry has so far only been able to carry out inspections at 25 to determine whether the breaches identified in its first round of inspections over a month ago, were corrected.

Yesterday, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security Collette Roberts Risden reported to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) that inspection teams were not able to go through the records of four of those companies when they returned for follow-up inspections.

“There is one particular company that we visited three times and the company still failed to provide us access to the records, which is a breach and we will be pursuing those companies. There was significant levels of non-compliance among the companies in respect to the payments of the prescribed rates of pay and allowances to security guards. From the information gathered by the ministry in the follow-up there was no change in compliance from our initial visit,” Roberts Risden informed the House committee.

She said there was one company which the ministry was unable to physically locate according to the registered address on the Private Security Regulatory Authority (PSRA) listing. “We are working with the PSRA to try to determine the correct location; we gather the company may have moved recently, but we are not sure,” she said. Also, there are still seven companies which did not comply with the ministry's request to produce records for its first inspection.

The permanent secretary told the PAAC that of the 31 companies that provide services across Government, six were not found on the PSRA list of 168 companies.

She pointed out, however, that these six entities are in various stages of registration. “Because there is a process...it's not that they're totally not there,” she remarked.

Roberts Risden sought to assure the committee that the companies that are non-compliant will not be let off the hook, as the breaches are being referred to the legal department for follow-up. But members said the situation needed to be addressed now, as security guards were left at a grave disadvantage while second chances are extended to the companies to comply with the law.

“I would like to see more action from the Ministry of Finance because it is this ministry, which governs procurement contracts, (to) swiftly cauterise the breaking of law. When one of these individuals (security guards) can't do better than to stay in employment, you should see how some of them are treated, worse than even the dog that they're handling on a daily basis. Taxpayers are paying these companies, some of them hundreds of millions of dollars, and if the government ministry is trying to get information for them to correct those shortcomings, there should be swift action taken,” committee member Mikael Phillips stated.

Government member Leslie Campbell also stressed that urgent action should be taken against the companies which are resisting ministry intervention, and those operating afoul of the law. He said the ministry was under no obligation to continue to coax companies into compliance once breaches are identified and the entities notified.

“I suggest to the chairman that we include, as part of our recommendation, that the discretion relating to your processes are inadequate and need to be eliminated,” he stated.

The issue came to public attention when the PAAC received a letter from the Jamaica Society for Industrial Security in March, seeking intervention to have the labour ministry address complaints that security guards employed to some companies which hold Government contracts were not being paid, according to the law.


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