SINGAPORE: Nearly a third of security officers who were surveyed in Singapore have faced some form of abuse, as industry observers call for greater respect for this group of workers.
According to a survey of private security officers published by the Union of Security Employees (USE) and the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) on Wednesday (Jun 17), 32 per cent of the officers polled reported facing abuse at their workplaces, with the highest abuse faced from general public.
Nearly all who reported being abused faced verbal abuse, although some were both verbal and physical, with the remaining purely physical abuse.
It also found that the older the security officers are, the higher chance they reported abuse at their workplace.
The survey, which polled 707 respondents by randomly approaching security officers who were renewing their licences at the USE Customer Service Centre between January and February this year, aims to track changes in the wages, welfare and work prospects among private security officers (SOs) in Singapore.
It will be conducted twice a year over two years to track the results.
There are about 80,000 licensed security officers, of whom about 50,000 are active, according to data from the Police Licensing and Regulatory Department.
The well-being of security officers was highlighted last year following two highly-publicised cases of guards being mistreated - one where a condominium resident hurled abusive words towards a security guard in October, and another involving a man punching a Roxy Square security guard in April.
Most of those who said they faced verbal abuse said they encountered it about once every few months. Most of the abuse came from members of the public, followed by residents and then contractors.
“Whether it’s 30 per cent or 70 per cent, to me, it doesn’t matter. It means somebody, while doing his job, is abused,” said USE executive secretary Steve Tan, when he was asked during a press briefing on Wednesday if the level of abuse has increased over the years.
“And that shouldn’t happen. When we (come) into work, for example today, I don’t expect someone to punch me or scold me,” he said. “Why should it be that security officers, when they (go into work), have to bear with that?”
Mr Tan said that there have been educational campaigns to get the public to treat officers kindly, and the officers are also encouraged to make a police report if an attack occurs.
READ: The Big Read: From rude residents to ‘unfair fines', condo security guards have a lot to put up with
Mr Desmond Choo, assistant secretary general of National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and an advisor to USE - which is under NTUC - said that people have to learn to treasure this group of workers, while employers should stand up for their officers.
“If employers do not have the gumption to say that my people are my best assets and I wouldn’t want them to be abused … then I think we cannot make that change."
He added that COVID-19 pandemic shows how important security officers are, as they are at the “forefront of the fight”, taking peoples’ temperatures and particulars.
WAGES BELOW NATIONAL MEDIAN
The survey found that security officers earn a median basic wage of S$1,420 and median take home pay after CPF deductions of S$1,975.
While the median basic wage is higher than the S$1,300 reported in a 2018 manpower ministry survey and above the minimum sum prescribed by the Progressive Wage Model, their median household income is still lower than their peers'.
Security employees are officially classified under "service and sales workers". The 2015 General Household Survey found that this group has a median household income of S$4,500 to S$4,999.
However, the median household income of those surveyed in the USE-SUSS report is between S$3,000 to S$3,999.
The median national household income found in the 2015 survey was S$8,000 to S$8,999.
Security officers also work an average of 11 hours a day and between 52 to 62 hours a week, and about a quarter of them do non-security work such as housekeeping and sweeping, based on the USE-SUSS survey findings.
Mr Tan, who noted that there are 248 security agencies in Singapore, said that although the industry has progressed, it still needs to improve its workers’ salaries and reduce the amount of hours they work.
Doing so will require service buyers such as offices, condominiums and malls to embrace "outcome-based" contracts rather than the traditional "manpower-based" agreements.
An outcome-based contract is one where the buyer agrees to a certain set of results instead of focusing on the number of security officers offered.
Industry observers believe that an outcome-based contract will help to ease the manpower crunch as the agency is allowed to increase its use of technology rather than just rely on its employees to monitor the premises.
READ: More emphasis on skills, faster progression for security officers after Government accepts recommendations
Wages will also go up as officers become more highly skilled when they are trained to use these security technologies.
Last year, in hopes that the private sector will follow suit, the Government announced that the public sector will adopt an outcome-based model when sourcing for security contracts from May 1.
As to why the newer form of contract is not legislated, given its benefits, Mr Tan said it will be “a challenge" for smaller service buyers, like condominiums with 50 residents, to pay for a full security assessment that is needed for such contracts.
But the Government might have to look at regulating it at some point, he said.
When asked whether the minimum salaries pushed by the Progressive Wage Model should be raised, Mr Tan said that service buyers “are not prepared to pay more” as they are used to buying based on headcount.
“That’s the only language they know: ‘I want this site, 10 men, just quote me three quotes, whoever quotes me cheaper per man, then I will give the contract to you'," he said.
He added that people and contractors are still finding comfort in seeing warm bodies around, which makes it hard for service buyers to make the switch - but that mindset needs to change.
Mr Patrick Tay, also an assistant secretary-general at NTUC and USE advisor, added that technology makes the work safer and helps officers avoid workplace hazards.
“We have so much new technology, biometrics, artificial intelligence ... to make sure that we do not fully rely on headcount,” Mr Tay said.
Citing COVID-19, Mr Choo said that the pandemic will likely spur service buyers to pay more for skilled security officers who are able to enforce safe management measures well.
“Whether we can go back to certain forms of normalcy require a certain level of trust that consumers and service providers feel comfortable going back to mass gatherings.”
“If you don’t guard the frontline well … (the consumer) will not feel comfortable going back,” Mr Choo said.
According to the survey results, more than 80 per cent of the respondents are using technology and security systems at work, such as CCTVs and body cameras, and more than 90 per cent of them are comfortable using such tools.
More than 80 per cent of them also said that they are satisfied with their profession, and more than 60 per cent said they have no intention of leaving their current job.