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The Security Guard

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Imagine being paid RM1 per hour and yet being expected to lay down your life in the line of duty. J John  writes about the plight of underpaid security guards who have to work long hours to earn a subsistence wage. 

Have you ever stopped and wondered about the uniformed security guards be it at banks, hotels or wherever? They come in many sizes, heights and shapes. Often, we see them dozing off in their chairs, even in broad daylight. Some are seen carrying antique-looking guns that probably weigh more than the guards themselves. Most are old and frail.

We often read about robberies, especially at goldsmiths and jewelery stores, where guards have been shot dead. Almost all of them didn’t have the physical speed to pull the trigger or raise an alarm. These guards could be old or young. We can understand if they were old and their reflex actions were  slow due to their progressing age. However, why do the young ones who are supposed to be full of action and energy also have to take the bullet?

I came across a young man of 19 who had spent five months working as a guard with an established security services firm. He had passed his STPM (A-Levels) and couldn’t get a job. Coming from a poor family, he applied and was readily accepted as a security guard. He was stationed in a four-star hotel and, being young with a good physique, he would have helped boost the hotel’s image as well. The security services company provided him with uniforms, the cost of which was deducted from his monthly pay cheque.

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Now do you know how much he was paid? A miserable RM1 per hour, which translates to RM8 per day for an eight-hour shift. Assuming he works for 30 days in a month – which he apparently does – that means he makes RM240 monthly before EPF and Socso deductions. No deductions were made for earnings from overtime pay. Since he could hardly live on that kind of salary he — like most of the other guards — was forced to work overtime.

Ever since the labour laws were amended in Sarawak some time last year, overtime rates mean one and a half times more. There being no minimum wage in Sarawak, companies began employing people on very little basic pay. This means the hourly rate is so low, and paying overtime rates as prescribed by the law is negligible. Companies therefore do not flout the law and the amounts paid to the guards do not affect their bottom line. 

Working 24/7 

This young guard, like many others, was in a way forced to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I asked him how he coped? He says it was simple: During the day, he was stationed at the hotel, and then at night, he was posted to a bank where he was able to sleep. (If guards are posted to business premises like banks during the day, you can sometimes see them helping customers by pointing out the right counters or tellers to go to and even the right forms to use for deposits or withdrawals. It is a way of killing time and boredom for them as well as trying to be useful.)

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Now you know why robbers are able to rip ATM machines off the wall using trucks or cars. Imagine the noise level that the robbers will be making besides the time needed to do so. While all this is happening, our guards are fast asleep. Even if they are awake, do you honestly think they would so foolishly try and stop a crime for the amount they are paid? Who will take care of them or their families if they are badly injured or killed? One can only imagine the amount of compensation they or their families would receive considering the low wages they earn.

This young guard, who lasted five months, managed to earn a maximum of somewhere in the region of RM600 plus monthly. The security service company, knowing very well that most of their guards don’t get a decent break, has provided them the top floor of its office as ‘quarters’ for them to bathe and change before transporting them to their next duty. Occasionally, when they feel exhausted, they would just crash out on the bare floor of their quarters.

The exploitation of guards, while the security services firms ensure their shareholders decent returns on their investments, seems to be the norm. The users of such security services are unwilling to pay more than the minimum to keep their costs down as well. At the end of the day, the poor guards take the blame for all that can go wrong. It would definitely be interesting to analyse these companies’ profits to determine how much is spent on the welfare, wages and benefits for the guards versus the management teams’. I bet, for the guards, it will be the bare minimum. But in Malaysia, Malaysia Boleh-lah.

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So when you see guards sleeping while on duty, you know why. Have pity on the poor souls and remember like everyone else, they too are trying to make an honest living to provide for themselves and their families.

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J John is a keen observer of local happenings in Sarawak.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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