Minister Scott’s announcement

In a statement issued from his office recently, Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Keith Scott, announced his bold intention to “minimise in the first instance and eventually eliminate night work for single mothers within the Private Security Industry.”

This announcement, not surprisingly, sent shockwaves across the industry and raised more questions than were answered in the Minister’s statement. In a search for context we noted that the Minister hosted a seminar for private security firms on Thursday August 24, 2017 under the theme, ‘Repositioning the Elderly and Single Mothers within the Private Security Service.’ It was at this seminar, according to gina.gov, that the Minister “alluded to the negative impacts which night work by single mothers can have on the family as a social unit and recommend[ed] the abolition of night work by single mothers in an effort to alleviate these negative impacts.”

It was at this seminar, according to media reports, that the Women and Gender Equality Commission raised the issue of female security personnel being sexually assaulted or harassed by security supervisors who would visit the locations where the women were working at night. The Commission’s representative, Ms Nicole Cole painted a graphic picture of sexual coercion carried out by a “Midnight Checker” at a security firm.

It is not clear if any specific decision was taken by the seminar on the way forward with respect to dealing with this unwarranted and illegal exploitation of the female staff of security firms, but one might assume that this was covered under the somewhat bland communiqué item: “The compliance with all Safety and Labour related Legislations” which was part of a “to do” list of measures noted at the wrapping up of the meeting.

Whether Minister Scott’s pronouncement to abolish night work by “single mothers” in private security was caused by an awareness of the silent plight of women in the private security sector, is not clear. As mentioned earlier, the Minister does make mention that working at night by this category of women would have “negative impacts…on the family as a social unit” and ending such work has been described by the ministry as a “noble idea.”

With the constant reference to single mothers, without an accompanying clear definition of the term as perceived by the ministry with respect to this issue, there is the obvious question mark over how this new rule applies to women not falling into the category of “single mothers.” It is not clear, either, whether government run security agencies are also subject to this new rule, or if it only applies to private security companies.

If only private security agencies are to be subjected to this new rule, is the understanding that single mothers, who are employed in security work in state agencies and the like, do not have these accompanying “negative impacts” on their family lives when working the night shift? To avoid the accusation that this is a poorly thought out, knee jerk reaction to some of the concerns raised by stakeholders regarding the treatment of women in the private security service industry, Minister Scott needs to place on the table a more balanced menu of measures, particularly one which faces head on the question of sexual harassment and gender based issues in the security services sector as a whole, and not simply the private security services sector.

Minister Scott has put forward the rationalization, that women should not be structurally compelled to do night work,” and this seems quite reasonable on the face of it. However, the Minister does leave an ‘out clause’ whereby if a single mother elects to work nights she may be allowed to. If the majority of single mothers opt to continue to work nights based on their own desire to preserve their jobs or levels of income, then the status quo would be maintained.

But this loophole introduced by the Minister runs counter to the statement from his ministry, to the effect that, “The Ministry of Social Protection has no intention of relenting on its agenda to minimize, in the first instance, and eventually eliminate night work for single mothers within the private security industry.” The Minister also has not seemed to consider the effect of this move on the remaining security workers who do not fall into the category of “single mothers” and this group of men and women will likely have to take up the slack in the workload created by this new rule if the security firms are to continue to execute their obligations to their clients. The social wellbeing of families of persons who are not single mothers are not automatically assured, and these persons must obviously depend on the usual system where night and day work rotated week in, week out, and persons can actually plan their lives with some certainty.

It would be somewhat of a cop-out by the Ministry of Social Protection if this new directive is the ministry’s way of treating with the harassment allegedly being endured by women in the private security sector. If single mothers elect to work nights of their own accord for whatever reason, does this let the ministry off the hook if these women continue to be molested or harassed in any way?

Red Thread Coordinator, Karen De Souza did not mince words when commenting on this new move by Minister Keith Scott calling it a “cheap and nasty suggestion” that will create problems. Social media has also not been kind to the Minister with one blogger’s succinct summation being: “Guyana is truly a twilight zone.”

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