‘A national disgrace’

WITH the ripples caused by the recent high court ruling in the case involving Marksman Limited and National Housing Trust (NHT) that security guards are employees and not independent contractors, a highly placed industry source believes that the Government and Opposition should have already summoned players in the sector to a round table.

In the matter which began in March this year — the judgement for which was handed down on Friday, September 23, 2022 — the court ruled that effective immediately, third-party security guards employed to Marksman Security Limited are employees and not independent contractors and that the company should immediately begin paying over their 3 per cent NHT statutory contributions.

Marksman, in the wake of that ruling, said there would be a 50 per cent increase in the rates/fees to clients. Shortly after, the Jamaica Society for Industrial Security (JSIS) said the ruling had thrown the sector into turmoil, noting that for over 35 years Marksman Limited and other private security companies, with the full knowledge of the Government, have treated the security officers that they have engaged as independent contractors or self-employed individuals.

“When you look back 20-odd years, we have had this problem — and it is a disgrace really that we left it in a grey area. They should have approached it and just dealt with it — the people are employees, yes or no — so that everybody is on a level playing field,” the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Jamaica Observer.

“You have had people who paid the statutory deductions who have suffered and couldn’t grow, and you had those who didn’t pay and grew and who are being rewarded by not having to pay the tax. So, it gave an unlevel playing field for the industry,” he argued.

“This is something that the political parties and the JSIS should have locked themselves in a room and figured out a solution that could work that would carry us to the next 30, 40 years. It’s not a political football — it’s a lot of people, a lot of livelihoods,” the source stated.

Pointing out that although the court has established that they are employees, the source said that security guards do not want a 40-hour workweek.

“The solution is that the two parties at the senior level need to meet; it’s a unique business. You need to set parameters, you have already established precedence, figure this out. It’s a national disgrace. I will give JSIS their dues: They have tried, the members have tried through different challenges, but this has brought everything to a head,” he lamented.

He argued that if the industry moves to eight-hour shifts for a 40-hour workweek, security guards will earn less than they currently do.

“A guard job is different from a regular job; you are in a stationary spot so the workweek needs to move to 60 hours. And it’s not colonialist, it’s not anti-labour, it’s not all these things that people will throw at it — it’s just logical for this business that you have a 60-hour workweek,” he reasoned.

In noting the call by JSIS for a moratorium on all employee statutory contributions pending the finalisation of an equitable framework for all stakeholders, he said “that is not unreasonable. They need an emergency meeting to work it out and move forward and establish something that will last 20 to 30 years without there being a problem. Everybody is afraid of their shadow right now; everybody is just looking at the 50 per cent and not looking at the fundamentals”.

JSIS had maintained that the immediate financial impact of the ruling will result in a 50 per cent increase in the cost to private security providers, which will have to be passed on to clients.

According to the source, “people can’t really afford 50 per cent more because the security rates are already high. A one guard for a 24-hour location will cost $400,000 per month, and the guard companies only keep about 20 per cent for overheads and 80 per cent goes to the guard. So, imagine that $400,000 going to $600,000 per month. The narrative needs to be changed and it needs to come across in a responsible manner”.

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