Government yesterday announced that it has implemented no policy to ban single mothers working as security guards from being placed on night shifts and according to Minister of State Joseph Harmon there has been “no debate on the matter” by Cabinet.
The announcement, which was made by Harmon during his post-Cabinet press conference and later in a statement released by his office, is in direct contrast to a statement issued earlier this week by Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection Keith Scott, who said that the ministry had no intention of relenting on its move to eliminate night work for single mothers within the private security industry.
Scott’s announcement has been met with severe criticisms by many persons, including coordinator of Red Thread, Karen de Souza, the Guyana Association of Private Security Organisations (GAPSO) and more recently the women’s arm of the opposition PPP, the Women’s Progressive Organisation (WPO).
“…As far as the government is concerned, we have had no debate on the matter. The senior Minister of Social Protection in that regard would have to bring a paper to Cabinet and Cabinet will have to debate it. Until such time that that occurs the situation remains as it is and that is to say that women will continue to work either day or night and there is no restriction on them,” a statement from Harmon’s office quoted him as saying.
However, he said government is calling on security companies to recognise and facilitate the special conditions under which women work.
“There is no restriction on their right to work, what we will ask and we will insist is that the employers who employ women must ensure the conditions under which they work that they provide for the special arrangements which have to do with women in the workforce,” he said in the statement.
Further, Harmon said the government is always open to advice and that the rights of workers must always be protected, including their right to payment for the work they do and the payment of their national insurance contributions by the companies. “So there is an obligation on the part of the employer and an obligation on the part of the employee,” he noted.
He said that the state will provide the legislative and regulatory framework within which that relationship between employer and employee exists.
On Monday, Scott’s office stated that the ministry intended to “minimise in the first instance and eventually eliminate night work for single mothers within the Private Security Industry.”
Scott, who has direct responsibility for labour, had made an announcement on August 24 that in pursuit of his “noble idea” that he was going to request senior government officials to ensure immediately that the contracts for the provision of private security services provide for the exclusion of single mothers from night work.
The statement from his ministry said that whatever policies are developed, single mothers should not be compelled to do night work, but should not be deterred from doing so if they elect to.
But de Souza, in response, warned that the move could lead security firms to stop offering employment to single mothers. She also pointed out that Minister Scott was placing the burden on the security firms, when the labour ministry should be addressing other important issues, such as that of the schools’ sweepers/cleaners who have been discriminated against in terms of workers’ rights by successive administrations and the lack of support systems for working mothers, such as day care facilities.
Meanwhile, the WPO yesterday said while the concern shown for single mothers by Scott is commendable, it needs to be placed in the Guyana context. Its statement pointed out that there are over 55,000 female-headed households and the majority of the women do not have the spousal or financial support to take care of themselves and families.
“Many of these women are forced to go out and work to take care of their families. In the absence of proper paying jobs, they have to take whatever is available and in Guyana today those are the jobs that are available,” the statement said.
It recommended that the minister enquire from the security guards their salaries, the conditions under which they work and whether their National Insurance Scheme contributions and other benefits are paid.
It was also pointed out that the government is the largest employer of security guards provided by security companies. Because women are more reliable, they are readily hired, the statement said, while lamenting that they are also forced to accept low wages since they have no other alternative.
Additionally, GAPSO, in a statement on Wednesday, described Scott’s choice to selectively dismantle and target single mothers within the private security sector as “a cruel and arbitrary attack on the sector.” “GAPSO feels that it is a high-handed and unilateral approach being adopted by the Government and definitely lacks insight or thinking outside the box. It remains unclear why only the private security sector was selected while other professions are excluded and what suggestions if any there [are] to solve the inevitable unemployment that will arise therefrom,” the GAPSO statement had said.
It also said it found it repulsive that the government would publicly offend, humiliate and devalue the very people that put their lives on the line day and night to protect others, including government ministries and assets.