SEVERAL security officers who spend hundreds of hours guarding popular Corporate Area businesses, in welcoming the recent ruling which elevated them from contract workers to employees, are admitting some amount of trepidation about the unintended spin-offs from that judgement.
In the matter which saw the National Housing Trust (NHT) hauling Marksman Limited before the courts over statutory deductions in March this year, the judgement for which was handed down on Friday, September 23, 2022, the court ruled that effective then, 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 three per cent National Housing Trust statutory contributions. The court’s decision established a precedent for all private security companies who engaged security officers as independent contractors.
On Friday, president of the Jamaica Society for Industrial Security (JSIS) Lieutenant Commander George Overton had warned that the court’s ruling “is going to change the labour relations between itself and its security officers significantly” with a strong possibility that there would be significant job losses.
On Tuesday, the employees, who fall under the umbrella of several of the 28 companies represented by the JSIS, described the ruling as a two-edged sword.
“I believe it’s a positive move, I was wondering one of the time why they are not paying any NHT and NIS, Education Tax, me used to see it as it don’t make no sense because yuh juss a work, work, work fi nutting at the end of di day,” female security officer told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday.
At the same time the employee, who said she was among several new recruits, told the Observer that they are yet to be officially addressed by their handlers and expressed fear about the changes the new regime would bring.
“I believe we [newest recruits] a go get lay-off because you have people working 22 years and so on and they are going to look at it that they can’t pay them off,” she surmised.
Describing the $310 per hour rate that security officers like herself receive, the employee was dismissive of claims by the JSIS that it could not absorb the additional costs effected by the court’s ruling.
“I believe it’s a lie. Let’s say one company is going to take over a contract to provide security services at a location, they say to the client, okay we want this amount for this person. Suppose they charge $2,000 per person? We only get $310 out of it. So, they get the majority so at the end of the day I believe it’s unfair to us because we do most of the work,” she said.
In describing what she said was a hand-to-mouth existence, she added, “I am from Spanish Town and it costs me to get here because the JUTC bus system â€” it nuh work so yuh have to take taxi and it’s like $400 one way. So, to me it’s like hand-to-mouth, yuh a work just bus fare and likkle lunch because yuh can hardly buy food and then yuh have bills to pay, children to send to school.”
On Tuesday a 25-year-old security guard with whom the Observer spoke said “from the ruling come out I’m just stressed out”.
“It’s both good and bad, because we will start to get benefits but because of the increased cost of security I know that the companies will put their interest above that of the security guards, so they might cut staff and I know most guards have mortgage, rent, car loans. I have a loan taking care off and I just moved out [of my parent’s home] a few months now, so I am a bit worried because at the end of the day the company will only see to its best interest. So, it’s causing me a little anxiety right now,” he told the Observer.
“I can’t afford to go back home to my parents. I want to use this job as a steppingstone to start my life, so if the company decides to cut staff or cut hours that it affects my earnings, it will set me back to an extent. I just hope they can come to an agreement that would benefit all of us,” he said further.
In noting that the Government should pay over the billions it owes to security providers “to help cushion the effect”, he said the financial fallout prophesied by JSIS “won’t affect just security workers, but will affect banks, credit unions because a lot of guards have loans to pay, so it will cause financial disruptions not just for security officers but for other financial institutions as well”.
Another security officer employed to one of the entities represented by JSIS at another location visited by the Observer also had mixed feelings about the impact of the ruling.
“If they are making us employees, they cannot trouble the hours because the hours is what makes the money. If in two weeks a guard can work up to 140 hours that accumulates to a certain amount. Me personally don’t want any limitations on the money. Some guards will tell you that they are happy for the eight hours shift but personally more hours is better,” hesaid.
Arguing that his earnings “can’t do anything”, he said “sometime a mi mother and stepfather mi have to depend on. Mi nuh get no yute yet, the only thing mi responsible for is the light and water but sometimes yuh have to borrow. As you get pay the money done. It really rough”.
He also had this prediction. “Most likely some negative effects will be there once you turn an employee and we expect certain people are going to get laid off, the clients really are the ones who pay us so we have to think about what the clients say,” he stated.
One other security under the JSIS represented companies umbrella who said he has been in the business over 10 years told the Observer that the ruling “will affect us in good and bad ways”.
“You know if the clients don’t agree, you know our companies are going to cut staff and a lot of us are going to be out of a job. On the next hand, it’s going to be a good benefit for us because we have been fighting for this over the years. Over the years security fight for raise of pay, we get sick on the work and the majority of the companies tell you that you work at your own liability,” he told the Observer.
He was also sceptical about the so-called distress cries from clients of the various security providers.
“Remember when security used to get $186 per hour and the Government raised it to $214, clients were complaining. It go to $246 and clients were complaining and now it’s at $310. I think it will work but we have to see because the association will say one thing and do another,” he said.
JSIS on Friday said while it had no quarrel with the court’s ruling, the immediacy has thrown the sector into turmoil. It further warned that failure by the Government to intervene, albeit after the fact, will result in an increase in unregulated operators and a reduction in security services due to the inability of some of its clients to contract the critical service.
Further, JSIS said the ongoing viability of the sector would be at risk without this intervention.