SPECIAL MESSAGE FROM SO RAJ JOSHUA THOMAS, PRESIDENT, SAS
Welcome to the first Security Officers’ Day Awards Ceremony in over two years, which we have not been able to hold due to the pandemic. Of course, all of you here know very well what had transpired during the pandemic, because security officers were at the frontline as an essential service. From temperature checking, to access control, crowd control and enforcement of the various and constantly evolving safe management measures, we have played an integral role getting Singapore through the pandemic and, now, out of it.
As we return to normalcy, having done our part in this crisis, we must focus efforts on the issues that security officers continue to face on the ground. In particular, the Union of Security Employees (“USE”) and Security Association Singapore (“SAS”) as well as other stakeholders, have been very active in raising awareness of some of the difficulties that officers face on the ground and are taking steps to help deal with these issues.
These issues can be broadly categorised under two headings. The first is harassment and abuse of security officers. The second is unfair working conditions.
As all of you would know, the government, strongly supported by the tripartite partners, amended the Private Security Industry Act last year to include penalties for harassment or abuse of security officers. The penalties prescribed are higher than for the same offences under the Protection from Harassment Act. I spoke in favour of the amendments and voted to pass them as well. These protections are a huge development for our industry and for our officers.
Yet as recent events have shown, abuse of security officers, with violence, and even with the use of vehicles, persist. What do we need to do to deal with this? First, we need to report all such incidents of abuse. The enhanced penalties are intended to send a message – that is it not ok to abuse us. This message will only crystalise if we make reports when such incidents happen. Security officers can seek assistance from their employers, who can ask SAS for help, or they can report the incident through USE’s app and USE will assist them.
Second, we need to have constant messaging on the need to treat our officers properly. SAS, USE and the Association of Certified Security Agencies introduced an anti-abuse decal last year and SAS will propose to update it to make reference to the new provisions in the Act. In recent incidents, I also noticed that members of the public have stepped up to help abused security officers. I thank them and I am confident that this civic mindedness, an attitude of wanting to take care of those who take care of us, will gain further traction. Third, we need to empower our officers to know how to react in the face of such abuse. It is important to protect themselves first and as far as possible, disengage, seek help and call the police. As far as is safe, they should also try to continue to perform their job to protect others.
In this regard, this year, SAS is pleased to introduce the SAS President’s Medal for Professionalism, to be awarded to officers who have displayed professionalism in the face of adversity. I congratulate the three officers who will receive the inaugural Medals, as well as the two officers receiving the apex Security Officers of the Year Award, who are recognised as being the top officers in our industry. Their citations will be read out later before they receive the awards, so that you can find out a little more about them.
The second broad category of issues is working conditions. This encompasses such things as the provision of rest areas, proper rest timings and safe working areas. But what I want to talk about, and which also falls under this category, is having a work environment that is free from discrimination and unfair threats to job security. These are the issues that SAS raised recently, arising from discriminatory and unfair clauses in security tenders. In my view, these clauses in tenders and in service agreements are the biggest issues facing security officers. It is an even bigger problem than abuse – because abuse is incidental but discriminatory and unfair working conditions are systemic.
Such clauses in service agreements are negotiated and agreed by the service buyer and the security agency, but affect the security officer. This means that security officers have no say as to the working conditions they are entering into. Whether the agreed terms are ageist, whether they allow an officer to be removed from his workplace for any reason and with no recourse, whether they impose such terms that officers must do whatever the managing agent instructs whether she or he is trained for it – all these are often dictated by the service buyer and often using templates of a managing agent or under the advice of a managing agent. Buyers want to get the biggest bang for their buck by putting in these types of clauses. Security agencies want to win contracts and some of these clauses have become the norm, so they just accept it. But the security officers suffer. And this is not a problem only for security officers. It is a problem that is prevalent across the outsourced services sectors.
SAS has raised such clauses. We did so last year as regard discriminatory and unfair clauses in a tender put out by managing agent Savills for Hillview condominium. Savills claimed it was using an outdated template. We identified and publicised another set of discriminatory and unfair clauses just last month that a different managing agent had put out.
Despite the awareness that we raised by these incidents, which went viral, SAS has just received yet another tender that includes an ageist clause, stipulating a maximum age for security officers deployed to that site. We will bring this to light shortly. What I shall share at this time is that this managing agent is a repeat offender.
But how can we definitively deal with this issue? I have suggested in Parliament and elsewhere that upcoming legislation enshrining the TAFEP guidelines on fair consideration and fair employment, be widened to include liability for service buyers and managing agents if they incorporate unfair and discriminatory practices in their tenders and contracts. This is not unheard of. The Workplace Safety and Health Act, for example, provides that building owners as principals and managing agents may be held liable for workplace accidents that could have been prevented.
Alternatively, but less preferably, existing Guidelines, like those on outsourcing practices could be amended to expressly set out what should not be included in outsourcing tenders and service agreements. I would also propose that penalties like the suspension of work pass privileges be imposed for at least one year, and that these violations and punishments be publicised to raise awareness.
These suggestions are for MOM’s kind consideration.
SAS, MOM, USE and our tripartite partners will continue to work to make sure that our officers, and their families, can rest assured that they will always be heading to safe, fair and non-discriminatory workplaces. This will happen alongside sustained increases in wages under the Progressive Wage Model, continued training to re-skill, up-skill and cross-skill our officers so that they can take advantage of future opportunities, and the transformation of our companies to make them ready for the security industry of the future and to become better employers for our officers.
Our industry is special because security is a public good, whether carried out by a public authority or a private service provider. We are protectors. Our profession is not only noble, but as the pandemic has shown, it is also essential. And the future is bright for the security industry and for the security profession. You represent some of the best in our industry. I thank you for your hard work, for your professionalism and your dedication. Once again, congratulations.