The reported brouhaha over the alleged two-month gap in the payment of salaries to security guards providing services at state locations in Region Five would appear to point to the persistence of an entrenched practice of employer exploitation of security guards by private contractors providing service at state institutions.
In sections of the business community as well, the exploitation of security guards has long been one of the more heinous forms of worker exploitation in Guyana and one which the Government of Guyana is well aware of. When, for example, you deny security guards their salaries for two months – and require them to work without pay – you inflict a terrible injustice on the guards and their families whose incomes rarely if ever afford them the luxury of setting aside much for the proverbial rainy day.
Guard services come and go. What remains, unchanging, is a pool of continually exploited workers, mostly women in some instances. To its discredit guard services have come to be seen in some quarters as institutions that exist solely for the enrichment of their private owners at the expense of the working poor. Over time, the Government of Guyana has not demonstrated any particular mindfulness of addressing this exploitative practice by ensuring that those services that perpetrate such injustices are not only denied the benefit of state contracts but are also made to feel the full force of the law. Here, the problem reposes in the widespread view that some of these contracts have their origin in sweetheart deals and arrangements that are underpinned by a profusion of kickbacks and backhanders.
Many of the security guards who serve at state locations, notably state schools, are either elderly and less than significantly able-bodied men and women or else, persons for whom there are few if any employment options. It is the lack of options that render them vulnerable to the sort of abuse to which they are subjected…and the abuse does not stop at the late payment of salaries and sometimes barefacedly cheating them out of what they have earned. Indeed, one can think of few (if any) other categories of workers who are so ill-treated and who, moreover, have a greater capacity to ‘grin and bear it.’
The records of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) will make clear the countless instances of callousness of private guard services that are among the worse delinquents insofar as the non-payment of security guards’ NIS contributions are concerned, so that when the hapless guards are no longer able to give service they are not even able to qualify for an NIS pension. This stands out as an act of inhumanity which, arguably, is unparalleled in the annals of local labour relations.
Distressingly, there has been no evidence over the years, of government pursuing a posture of robust intolerance of the various forms of injustice suffered by voiceless security guards at the hands of exploitative employers and who, in the absence of any sort of robust representation are summarily dismissed from their jobs at the drop of a hat.
Government, we believe, has a duty to act in such matters, recognizing its overarching duty to the welfare of the Guyanese workforce as a whole and recognizing that the exploitation and attendant frustration that continues to be visited on guards that provide a service at state installations, put the security of those installations at risk. There is nothing wrong, we believe, with compelling service providers in the security sector to sign on to contracts that bind them to minimum standards of behaviour including a minimum standard of humanitarian treatment of their employees. Where such contracts persist in the face of delinquency on the part of the contractors in terms of timely payment of salaries to their employees and the remitting of deductions to the NIS and the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) those should be treated as considerable grounds for the termination of contracts. That is part of government’s responsibility to protecting the rights of the workers of our country.