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MPs failed guards on new regulations

Tuesday January 07 2020
PARLIAMENT

Kenya's Parliament in session. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By TONY WATIMA

“The requirement for compliance with the minimum wage ought to be further discussed as it is apparent that not even government agencies that have procured private security services are yet to comply with minimum wage order.”

That is one of the recommendations by the parliamentary Committee on Delegated Legislation, chaired by Uasin Gishu Woman Representative Gladys Boss Shollei, after looking at the proposed regulations by the Interior ministry meant to operationalise the Private Security Regulation Act 2016. This was the first time I witnessed an employer being excused from complying with the minimum wage.

First, the framing of that quote suggests that the responsibility of complying with the minimum wage is on the client and not the private security service provider. The impression given is that the responsibility of complying with the minimum wage law is the choice of the client affording to pay. Yet the pricing of the services should start from complying with the minimum wage.

Second, did the committee interrogate whether the issue of compliance with the minimum wage is about affordability or service providers simply failing to honour by undeservedly taking out a large share of the payment?

If we are to go with the first point where the choice to comply is with the client, no government agencies pay any employee below the minimum wage. In addition, the general charges of the top-tier private security services, where corporates and government establishments lie, is between Sh40,000 and Sh65,000 per head. But almost three-quarters of this remains with the employer, who claims operational overheads, whilst the security guard goes home with less than a quarter.

So, is the issue entirely about affordability? In fact, some private security providers are already in compliance with the minimum wage and even statutory deductions.

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Third, the committee chose to go with the submission of the Security Industry Associations that complying with the minimum wage will warrant them to pay a salary of Sh27,993 for a night guard and Sh25,641 for a day guard, therefore a client will have to be charged a minimum wage of Sh51,000 less administrative costs and other related charges, which is unsustainable in our economy — without independently investigating this claim.

So, how much does the pricing of guarding services cost for private security service providers to comply with the minimum wage? This is the fundamental question the committee failed to interrogate or deliberately avoided before making its recommendations.

Looking at this industry, we seem to have a structural problem. The pool of workers in this industry is about 500,000, which is close to the total number of workers in the whole public sector.

Now, I know of a guard who is paid Sh4,000 and going by the recent story carried in this paper, big service providers whose portfolio of clients include top corporates and establishments pay their guards between Sh7,000 and Sh10,000.

This means that we cannot improve the general standards of living and quality of life through job employment in this industry because there is no progression to higher income despite one growing in the industry. As the industry is disincentivised by low-income, productivity will remain low.

Lastly, the committee chose to throw out the regulations without taking into account the dire situation regarding the welfare of security guards.

Security guards work 26 days a month. They sometimes work 24 hours a day, and in the event they miss to report to work no matter the circumstances, a deduction of as high as Sh600 per day is made by the employer.

This means if one is to miss work for a week, they lose their whole salary for the month. This is what prompts most guards to skip paternity or even annual leave.

Also, security guards act as the first line of defence but they are never insured by their employers. Therefore in the event of any risk occurrence they don’t receive any compensation despite their hazardous work.

The committee failed to see this as nothing short of slavery that requires urgent redress but instead chose to annul the whole report, throwing the desperate welfare concern of security guards into a limbo.

Mr Watima is an economist.

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