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How private security guards were denied better terms of service

Monday December 2 2019

Private guards

Private guards frisk customers at a supermarket in Olkalau, Nyandarua on December 24, 2016. Efforts to give them better services have failed. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

PAUL WAFULA
By PAUL WAFULA
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His pair of black boots rest next to a pavement on Muindi Mbingu Street, Nairobi.

The shoes, defiantly battered, tell a complete story of his life. It's mid-month.

He’s fighting the temptation to request a salary advance. To get to work, he had to walk three hours on an empty stomach.

He speaks good English, having gone to college. However, he cannot show his employer the papers just yet because it will mean his automatic firing.

On a good month, he makes Sh6,000 after a string of deductions on his payslip to share between rent, food and school fees for his family.

It is a dog’s life for Allan Onyango*, whose tale is that of of over 500,000 private security guards, commonly known as ‘watchmen’.

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They literally watch over property worth billions of shillings as the country shuts down for the night.

What can stop him from selling intelligence of his workstation to criminals or terrorists to attack and rob in future? No one cares.

NO LEAVE DAYS

During the day, these security guards flip doors open, are required to have a smile and salute for millionaires as they slide into banking halls or lavish restaurants around town.

Some have not been too lucky. They have paid the ultimate price as they attempted to repulse heavily armed terrorists and organised gangs with nothing but their bare hands.

Some, like Allan, who cannot afford bus fare to work, have to brave the harsh weather to walk to work. This keeps him fit, he jokes.

But when it rains, he has to do everything to ensure he is not late.

For John Simiyu* who works on the next street, falling sick is a costly affair. When he shared his payslip with the Nation, he was unable to explain some deductions.

With disarming candour, John says he cannot afford to be sick. Paternity leaves are unheard off. He works for 26 straight days in a month from Monday to Sunday.

Should he not come to work for any reason, his employer chops off Sh600 from his meagre pay.

He cannot miss to be on duty on public holidays, since they are the only days he gets an extra Sh1,200 for a double shift.

UNJUSTIFIED COSTS

But he just needs to be sick for a week to go home with a payslip with zero balance. If he does not like the terms, he is free to leave.

There is always someone waiting on the line to replace him immediately he calls it a day or absconds.

To make an extra coin, he has to hustle motorists and look after their cars for the night as well, and get some fare back home.

But as they bear all this, their employers, who negotiate good salaries from various companies on their behalf, but end up paying them peanuts, are laughing all the way to the bank.

The Nation has seen various contracts and invoices by more than 10 security companies with various firms, among them banks and blue chip companies, listed in the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE).

While corporates and other establishments pay between Sh40,000 to Sh65,000 per head, these security firms have found a string of costs to load on them and end up with more than half of their earnings.

For instance, a payslip of an employee of Brinks Security working at a major installation showed that the firm paid the guard a gross salary of Sh7,500.

After statutory deductions, the guard ended up with Sh7,000. On its part, Inter Security Services Ltd paid another guard Sh10,617 before deductions. It is the same pattern for a number of security firms.

MINIMUM WAGE

But what eventually ends up in the pockets of the men and women who do the actual work reveals a pattern of lopsided contracts where security firms come out as leeches, sucking at them day and night.

When these are subjected to taxes and other statutory deductions, or for those with loans to pay, they are left with almost nothing to take home.

BM security, 24 Secure Security Services and 911 Group charge clients between Sh30,000 to Sh50,000 depending on whether it is an ordinary guard or a dog handler per month.

Not all are bad though. A handful of global firms such as G4S, Wells Fargo and KK appear to have complied with slightly above minimum wage requirements since they are held by higher standards globally.

This was one of the injustices that regulations presented to Parliament were supposed to cure, before something changed the hearts of legislators at the last minute. Everything had gone as planned.

After the Private Security (General) Regulations, which were to put into operation the Private Security Regulations Act, 2016, were published, various players were invited to give their views before the committee on delegated legislation chaired by Uasin Gishu Woman Representative Gladys Boss Shollei.

Many members of the committee appeared to sympathise with the guards while before the cameras.

LOBBYING

That was until the committee flew to Diani early November, to draft their report from the Sh12,000-a night Indian Ocean Beach Resort.

From here, they returned with a verdict that would deny guards a Christmas and New Year gift, after they sided with the big security firms to annul the regulations.

Their fate now hangs with the full House. If they endorse it, then security guards are done.

The move prevented them from getting at least Sh27,993 for a night guard and Sh25,641 for a day guard, in line with the minimum wage provisions, leaving them at the mercy of their exploitive employers.

A Nation investigation has exposed the intense lobbying employed by the security firms, some that are owned by the same political class, who colluded to defeat the new provisions of the security law.

At the end of the ‘lobbying', legislators made a sharp about-turn and recommended the annulment of the regulations that would have empowered security guards.

The team hang on frivolous excuses to annul the regulations despite having initially shown support during committee sessions.

PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT

It cited inadequate public participation, which is a moving target for legislators with various thresholds set depending on the law on the table.

They also said the issues in the regulations would be better addressed in a statute and not regulations, another strange excuse.

Despite them acknowledging that the regulations were published, received by the clerk of the National Assembly and tabled in the House within the statutory timelines contemplated under the law, they cited ‘unjustifiable delay in publication’ as a reason for their recommendations to annul the regulations.

Time was not always a problem. The government had all the time to draft the rules and do sufficient public participation as per the new constitution, but someone dropped the ball.

Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho told MPs that “public engagements were conducted by county commissioners who represent the national government in security and intelligence committees”.