I do not think that the proposal being advanced by the Ministry of Social Protection through its Minister responsible for Labour is possible at this juncture. The fact is too many women need to work to support their families as they are the sole breadwinners in the household. I believe that Minister Keith Scott was moved by emotion, and out of love and respect for our women. It is known that at times emotion can affect our judgement, but at the same time, it can lead to new and greater discoveries. The Minister has been moved particularly by single-parent mothers working at night and he has zeroed in on security personnel. But in all fairness to the gentleman, in his introduction at the meeting held at the Ministry of Labour with private security firms on the 24th August, 2017, he gave evidence of nurses working at night and the effects it has on their psyche and general demeanour.
During the meeting, I suggested to the Minister several divergent views which some viewed as sarcastic. But the fact remains that there are policewomen, nurses, soldiers, pilots, drivers and restaurant workers who are single mothers. So while the Minister’s concern and love is appreciated, it does not seem practical. I signed the document proposed by the ministry for two reasons: out of respect and for the principle of the idea. It does not appear that the government is trying to create legislation for this, but rather to appeal to the conscience of employers in general who hire single mothers. I also believe that the Minister should appeal to the hospitals in Guyana to curtail the use of women nurses at night; his example showed it was to the detriment of their health, so it would be appropriate for the ministry to meet with the management of hospitals.
I made a proposal to the Minister and the cabinet that they could insert a line item in the budget which would pay these single mothers to stay at home and to bring up very moral, educated and decent children. That would be the best way to go. Of course, the audience and the head table were very silent but paid rapt attention.
Further, I mentioned that there are clients (including diplomatic staff from First World countries) who specially request female officers since they have a tendency to be more respectful and because they have children, they are known to work hard and honourably to keep their jobs.
Also, there are single mothers who periodically petition security companies for the night shift as they may have a day job or they are needed at home during the day, etc. Also, many single mothers partner with families, neighbours and friends to watch each other’s kids in rotation, so we should consider a lot of factors before pronouncements are made. Every situation will be different for every single mother. It is also known that the night shift is much cooler and less strenuous on security personnel, so the working conditions are more comfortable and pleasant.
At the commencement of my presentation, I advised Minister Scott that very few women will take chances with theft compared to men in the industry. The Minister also alluded to mature, older men providing security services in the industry. I had to mention to him and the other participants there that younger men are more prone to theft. The older men are known to be reliable, decent, honourable, respectful and competent. In my 39 years of experience, I have found this to be the harsh truth. On the other hand, the younger men are more easily ‘tickled’ by wealth and material gains. Younger men tend not to flock to the private security industry, so this will pose a challenge for private security firms.
The educated youth are leaving this country by the hundreds, migrating to Antigua, Trinidad, Barbados and North America. The brain drain has crippled this country for years and continues to occur. So where will security firms find young personnel to hire? This is a reality that the Minister will have to acknowledge.
Importantly, I believe the Ministry of Social Protection should partner with the judicial system to ensure fathers are found and that they maintain their children. This will alleviate the burden on single mothers.
Some are of the view that the Ministry of Social Protection was not getting enough hype in the media or exposure and so this was an idea to highlight its work to cabinet and the country. I am not of this view; I believe that the Minister was moved by his humanity and came up with the idea. The agreement will, however, cause private security firms to become more conscious of the shifts and conditions under which women work. I pray that the country becomes so wealthy that we are able to compensate single mothers and all Guyanese when they stay home at night. In New York City during the Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tenure, persons were having babies and staying home so they could receive concessions from the government, and it became like a lifestyle. So we have to guard against this also, because free money can become the sickness of a people.
In the words of an ‘old head’ in this industry: “Women are the backbone of the security industry, police force and the army. If they want to work, no one can tell them not to.”
Again to be fair to Minister Scott, he did reiterate this point. In my view, all security employers of single mothers must provide proper training (inclusive of self-defence and profiling) and place them at safer locations. I wish to advise that there are many government locations without guard huts and toilets, with fences which are dilapidated and useless. These issues need to be dealt with if we are to help these security guards.
In the United States, Canada and European countries, women fought for many decades to have the right to be a part of the police force and army. Therefore if we place a restriction on single mothers and their working hours, critics will argue that this goes against the women’s liberation movement and constitutes gender discrimination.
I do not think that this initiative was studied enough for implementation to be forthcoming. I encourage the government to review this decision and address the concerns so that we understand its plans for single mothers and women in the future.
Roshan Khan Sr