Wednesday 3 June, 2020

Labour Ministry validates Security Society claim of abuse of guards

Amid reports of breaches that security companies continue to commit against unsuspecting guards in their employ across the island, news has emerged that the Jamaica Society for Industrial Security (JSIS) has met with officials from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security about the minimum wage compliance issue plaguing the security industry.

Lieutenant Commander George Overton, the President of JSIS, said the society received an audience with Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) at Gordon House on Wednesday when it made its case to the committee and heard first-hand the preliminary findings from the Ministry of Labour regarding an investigation in the problem.

The meeting with the ministry came a day after a Loop News team also met with Overton regarding a probe that the Loop team was conducting, looking at, among other things, reportedly inhumane conditions that some security guards were forced to work under. Overton said he was given an update on the Labour Ministry’s investigation, and he was left feeling encouraged by the fact that the ministry has started its investigation.

“The JSIS is pleased that the Ministry of Labour has started investigating the issue of non-compliance with the national minimum wage for security officers among some security companies (that are) contracted by Government agencies," said the body, which represents 28 security companies covering the majority of the local private security sector.

 JSIS officials also wrote to the Ministry of Labour in December 2018, calling its attention to reports of security firms cheating security guards out of their wages.

According to the JSIS’ findings, some private security companies underpay their security guards by about $175,000 per annum.

Speaking to the PAAC on Wednesday, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour, Collette Roberts-Risden, said the ministry conducted preliminary investigations into 14 security firms and found that there was truth to the JSIS’ claim.

“Based on the discussion and what was said by Overton, our report certainly validates what he said, where we reported that by and large, companies do pay the single rate, but they have not been paying the overtime rate,” she said.

However, while gratified that action is being taken, Overton expressed concern about what he described as the “ideal” the Ministry of Labour is using to measure compliance across the sector.

“The Ministry of Labour is conducting their audit on the ideal that the relationship between the company and the guards is that of an employer-employee. The industry has not operated in that relationship since 1985,” he said. “The independent contractor arrangement is what the industry operates under, and therefore, the audit will probably find the entire industry not compliant with the ideal of the ministry - a discussion that has been on and off with the Government for the past 20 years, with no resolution.”

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