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Invisible Heroes: Security Officers are Frontline Workers too!

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In case you haven’t realised, security officers (like the doctors and nurses y’all clapped for during the Circuit Breaker period) are frontline workers too. Like many of these healthcare workers, cleaners, transport workers, they stood guard to keep us safe even during the Circuit Breaker period! And in the past months, the workload of these essential workers must have increased significantly too.

Yet, they are often given dirty looks or cursed at (yes, they get that) when they ask people to mask up properly, park somewhere else, or ask for more details. Have you ever considered the fact that without them, your malls and places of residences might not be as safe?

Let’s face it – when they ‘kar-jiao’ you, they are just doing their jobs! And really, it is a very thankless job that not many show appreciation for. We all want safe environments to work, live and play in.  So let’s give thanks to the frontline heroes who make this happen, shall we?

Some time back, TODAY released a series titled We are Not Invisible’. As part of the series it chornicled the daily life of Mr Surjeet Singh, a security officer of 20 years. Mr Singh shared how he felt ignored, often getting unpleasant looks for merely doing his job!

Fast Forward to Today: Any Improvement in the Welfare of Security Officers?

Curious if things are still the same today, we spoke to 61-year-old security officer, Mr Zainal, to find out more about the industry and how things have changed over the 2 decades plus he has been in this line. Yes, Mr Zainal started working in the security industry since 1998!

He started as a security officer and is now an operations executive. He shared how he has slowly upgraded himself over the years to get to where he is today. “I have so many certs at home!” he chuckled, pride evident in his voice.

Over the years, his company has been sending him for training and he has attended numerous courses and skills upgrading. You see, he believes that upgrading is beneficial to both him and the company. Definitely a win-win if you ask me! In recent years, he has adapted to new technologies as they are implemented in his day-to-day work. Yes, new skill sets ranging from increased digital savviness, emergency response and first aid to customer service and facilities management would not only lead to a more efficient workforce, but would also boost the wages and job opportunities for the security officers.

Security Officers Meet People from All Walks of Life

I probed further on the stresses Mr Zainal faces at work. “Aiya, every job has its own problems and joy. It’s really how you manage it. I work in condo and warehouses and I meet a lot of different people. There will be unreasonable ones but also those who appreciate me. They buy kopi for me, that kind of thing. Oh, sometimes when I’m working at other sites, they call me just to catch up or invite me to their events too!”

Nice! From my understanding of the security industry, it seems they are perpetually facing manpower issues. Hence, security workers like Mr Zainal has to work veryyy long hours.

12 hours, 6-day Work Week

“How you tahan the hours huh?” To that, Mr Zainal laughed it off. 12-hour days, 6 days a week. “That’s why it’s hard to attract younger workers. The unions have been trying to negotiate for more rest days for us. See how things go then. I’ll definitely be happier to have more rest days to spend with my family!”

On Rude and Uncooperative Members of the Public

“I’ll let the management handle. In this line, there are lots of skills to develop. It’s not an easy job like people think. How to read people, develop good PR skills, how to build relationships, communicate with unreasonable people… All these are important,” Mr Zainal shared.

Did you know that security officers these days take up a lot of courses to upgrade themselves as they move along their career paths? Learning new skills help build up confidence for them too.

Wages for Security Workers

“Wages for security industry is much, much better today compared to the past. For me, my salary increased by about 30% over the past 4-5 years,” Mr Zainal shared.

Indeed, with the introduction of the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) by NTUC in 2012, security workers were better able to achieve sustainable wage increases as they acquired better skills and higher productivity.  PWM now covers around 80,000 workers in the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors. The reason why Singapore can adopt this method of wage improvements through re-skilling and upgrading of workers is based on these factors:

  • the availability of workfare supplements to help the worker while he or she undergoes training to reach the next step of the wage ladder
  • the establishment of a comprehensive employee training framework in the country
  • the government’s financial capacity to pay for such training programmes

Now, in the last five years under the PWM, workers in the three PWM sectors saw cumulative wage growth of around 30%! Numbers don’t lie. Progressive Wage Model (PWM) for Security Industry sure helped increase security officer wages as they enhanced their skillsets and improved productivity through relevant courses. As Deputy Secretary-General of NTUC and Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Koh Poh Koon said, the government has made tremendous strides in raising the wages of low income workers, but he acknowledged that it is still “unfinished business”. Indeed, the Government shares the objective of uplifting the welfare of low wage workers although the approach to getting to the end goal differs.

Progress Has Not Been As Fast As Desired

While the PWM has its merits (such as improving the skills of the low wage workers so they can move on to earn more than the minimum wage based on their capabilities), progress has not been as fast as desired because of the extensive groundwork required for each sector.

Well, let’s recognise that each sector has different dynamics and difficulties that need targeted approaches, which sectoral tripartite partners (e.g. NEA + cleaning companies + NTUC’s unions in the cleaning sector) have to ALL come to an agreement. The newly-convened Tripartite Workgroup on Lower Wage Workers will help to facilitate this process.

The good thing is that some companies are voluntarily adopting the Progressive Wage Model even before it’s legislated.

Uplifting the Incomes of Low Wage Workers

While unions in Singapore don’t march in the streets, protest, and suka suka go on strikes, their work is just as effective where it comes to fighting for the welfare of their union members without hurting industrial relations! Together with National Trades Union Congress, the Union of Security Employees will continue to champion for security workers like Mr Zainal to help them attain higher wages, better work-life balance and improved skills.

Uplifting the incomes of low-wage workers like security officers has always been a core priority for the Singapore Government. The lowest 20th percentile wages have seen a higher annual growth rate of 4.4% from 2014 to 2019. Wages of low-wage workers have been growing faster than those with higher income. Income inequality? At its narrowest in almost 20 years!

Hardly by chance – all these stem from sound economic policies including the Progressive Wage Model, Workfare Income Supplement and strong collaboration between tripartite partners. These security workers deserve better welfare and stronger legal protection.

As the Government and Unions do their part, meanwhile, it would like nice for members of the public (ahem, you and me) to show our security officers that bit more respect and appreciation.

A smile, hello or a kopi for our security officers as you pass them by, not that difficult right?

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