Threatened, Scolded, Ignored. Does The Pay Match The Pain?

Threatened, Scolded, Ignored. Does The Pay Match The Pain?

For security officers, a day’s work spans 12-hours, 6-days a week. But the long hours come with very little in terms for pay and respect from others.

The man was enraged. He grabbed the steel queue pole and brandished it at veteran security executive Andrew Pang. But Pang who will turn 70 this year refused to be intimidated.

“This man tried to get into the CPF (Central Provident Fund) building after it was closed. He threatened me with the pole while shouting ‘Why don’t you let me go in? I purposely took a cab here!’” Pang recalls of the incident.

Pang has definitely seen quite a bit of action in the eight years that he's been in his surprisingly colourful job. Although he managed to not just reason with the angry man but also calm him down, it remains quite a shocking experience for Pang.


(Veteran security supervisor Andrew Pang moved up the ranks over eight years by staying relevant in the security industry through training)

It’s all in day’s work. And for security officers, a day’s work spans 12-hours, 6-days a week. But the long hours come with very little in terms of pay.

Cheap-Sourcing vs Best-Sourcing.

Instead of best-sourcing where companies are advised by government agencies such as the Manpower Ministry to “award service contracts based on performance and quality, instead of solely based on price … to get more reliable services and better value for money”, the option most would look at is cheap-sourcing.

In the case of security services, those who take the cheap-source route will often choose the lowest offers by security agencies. This means quality suffers as security officers’ salaries are depressed and they have little, or no training.


(How cheap-sourcing affects pay and service)

There was little reason for anyone to consider a career in the security service industry.

But things changed in October 2014, when the Security Tripartite Cluster (STC) issued its recommendations on the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) for the security industry.

The STC is made up by representatives from NTUC, the Union of Security Employees (USE), security associations, security agencies, service buyers and government agencies. In its recommendations, the committee mapped out career and training pathways for security officers, and put in place wage and skills ladders to ensure that the basic wages of security officers would commensurate with their skills, productivity and job responsibilities.”


(Security employees will get better jobs and pay via PWM, Graphic from NTUC)

The PWM encourages security firms to offer better pay based on productivity, skills and career responsibilities.

With training being factored into the scheme, security employees who now have opportunities, will want to upgrade themselves and in turn command better pay.


(How PWM helps individuals, companies and consumers)

What it all means, is better prospects for security officers like Pang whose basic pay has increased from S$900 to S$1500. His employer, Soverus Pte Ltd, implemented the PWM even before September 1 this year, after which the PWM will become a licensing condition for security agencies who wish to operate in Singapore.


(NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Zainal Sapari believes there is much more work to be done to help low wage workers, but says the PWM is “a step in the right direction”. photo: Han Wei Chou)

“We are making good progress with the PWM” said NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Zainal Sapari. “We are able to help our workers earn better wages that is commensurate with the skills training and the number of responsibilities they hold,” he recently shared at an NTUC roundtable session.

However, he pointed out that the PWM “is not ‘a magic wand’”. It can’t immediately solve all the problems faced by low wage workers such as the lack of respect from members of the public but it is “a step in the right direction”.

“In the long run, the PWM is good for everyone” agreed Pang.

The 69-year-old also noted that better wages could attract new talent to the industry and help his fellow security employees lead better lives. “But it also depends on whether the security employees want to upgrade themselves” he stressed.

“We get all sorts of people in this job you know. Drunkards who try to carry a beer bottle up into the building, handicapped visitors whom I will immediately help into a wheelchair and disgruntled visitors such as an old man who had reached his CPF payout limit but refused to go home unless he got more money. We have to take care of all of them, talk to them nicely.”


(Andrew Pang takes pride in his job as a security executive and says it requires more skill than people think. photo: Han Wei Chou)

“Being a security officer today is not just being a ‘jaga’ (Malay for ‘guard’). We offer ‘customer service’ too. We have customer service lessons in our training,” explained Pang, flashing a toothy grin.

Respect, remuneration and role is probably why there are only about 33,000 security officers available at any one time when in fact about 50,000 security personnel are needed in Singapore.

Security officers are expected to perform multiple roles, yet they receive little respect in return.

“I don’t know why. Even when I tell those educated people coming into the building to scan their IC, they will say ‘Aiyah, uncle why so 'leh cheh' (Malay for troublesome)’ or ‘You are just a security guard’. They think we just sit there and sleep!” bellowed the energetic 69-year-old.

Pang is clearly proud of what he does and meticulous in his duties.

Ever ready with a tale, Pang recalled catching a trespasser trying to enter a secure building with a forged work permit, all because he took the time to examine the document carefully.

Little surprise then, that he was quickly promoted from security officer to security executive. It also helped that Pang had his skills upgraded in training courses.

As if ticking off a mental check-box, Pang listed the multiple courses where he picked up new skills, including how to spot suspicious individuals, inspecting vehicles thoroughly, and even how to handle bomb threats.

Fortunately for Pang, all of his training was paid for by his employer, Soverus Pte Ltd.

However that is not always the case.

As Zainal Sapari pointed out in a blog post, 3,300 security supervisors have yet to complete mandatory training requirements due to various reasons, including security agencies who refuse to send staff for training and companies who engage security services but will not agree to alternative arrangements to allow security supervisors to take time off for training.

The reasons that are beyond their control unfortunately impact the security supervisors who could face demotion and possibly a pay cut.

Affected security staff can turn to their union for help.

Besides professionalising the industry, the Union of Security Employees (USE), which is an NTUC-affiliated union, also helps security staff find better agencies for employment.

In addition, USE offers its members training grants and access to specialised training courses. This is part of USE’s plan to professionalise the industry by equipping those in the security line with relevant and up-to-date skills, leading to better wages and careers.


(The Union of Security Employees, USE, has a walk-in centre at Waterloo St)

USE also gives out bursaries and back-to-school vouchers to its members’ children, along with a number of other benefits such as workplace advice and health checks for members.

Find out more about the USE here .

Pang who is a USE member believes the organisation is a key resource for workers in the industry not because of the many perks it provides for its members, but because it also acts as mediator should a dispute happen between worker and employer.

“I think having the union around is a must. It protects security industry workers.”

A case in point is the February 2016 incident when video footage surfaced of two security officers being bullied by their manager. The USE took action, lodging a police report.

Training definitely gives a boost to the low wage worker.

Already at a ripe age of 69, Pang says he intends to keep going for courses and stay up to date with the changes in the security industry.

Inspired by Pang, some of his Chinese-educated colleagues chose to upgrade their skills, and they are now better off as well.

“They were worried at first, about learning how to use the computer and all that. But when they came back, they knew what to do, and had a certain level of knowledge” observed Pang.

“Attending these courses is definitely a bit stressful, because every course is so fast-paced. These courses are very comprehensive. Sometimes I ask myself ‘…can you remember all this?’ But I don’t mind, I went through it because I know they will lead me to become something more,” said Pang.

But it is not just about better pay as a result of training, or improved job roles, pointed out Pang.

The constant skills upgrading in security serves a greater purpose.

“The situation has changed a lot. Around the world, there are so many things happening. We cannot take things for granted, we have got to learn more, learn how to tackle them,” said Pang, who is currently attending an anti-terrorism course.

Find out more about your rights and options in the security industry with USE, or contact NTUC if you have workplace issues.


Produced in partnership with NTUC to encourage companies, customers and the public to treat all workers fairly and with respect.

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