“The move to introduce the penalty regime, coupled with the job’s labour-intensive and relatively low-paying nature, has raised questions on why this group has come under scrutiny” (Giving Security Officers Peace of Mind, Despite the Penalties, Hariz Baharudin).
The stiffer penalty regime for private security officers, who can now “be punished by a fine not exceeding $2,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months” (ST, Jan. 18) if caught slacking, sleeping on the job, or breaking the rules, is ostensibly important for security or defence reasons, but the first-hand views of the officers – especially in a collective, systematic manner – are rarely featured, and comparatively little attention is paid to their work conditions and benefits. Furthermore, the onus to improve productivity appears to be shouldered disproportionately by the officers expected to fulfil training requirements, yet little is also said about what their employers ought to do, in terms of technological advancements or improvements to the well-being of the officers.
That is not to say that security officers are never guilty of transgressions. That there are no lackadaisical officers. Or that professional standards within the industry should not be raised. Instead, the discourse seems to have privileged the perspectives of the security companies – who have mostly praised the penalties – and not much is understood about the circumstances or plight of the officers working long and oftentimes monotonous 12-hour shifts, and whose supposedly critical roles and responsibilities are not necessarily commensurate with adequate remuneration or benefits. For instance, what difficulties do they face on the job? And what other industry-wide changes would they like? In addition to protection from harassment or a membership with the National Trades Union Congress, ST makes the observation too that the extent to which the officers can defend themselves against accusations is not clear.
And if there is a recommendation for a blacklist of security officers with bad track records, should there be one of companies?
In this vein, the discourse should shift to broader improvements in the industry. And what companies, in particular, can do. Ideas include outcome-based contracts “that leverage technology and reduce the time officers need to clock in”, working around the resistance clients may have in the beginning, as well as crafting arrangements to manage the amount of time officers spend on the job and hence decreasing the associated fatigue. As counterintuitive it may be to the financial bottom-line of the security companies, perhaps a useful starting point – for the long-term – would be prioritising the needs and welfare of their officers and helping them do their jobs.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.