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Guards earn peanuts to watch over millions

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

John Okumu was recently recruited as a guard with Saracen Uganda Limited, a private security firm. Okumu says his financial situation has been harsh ever since he began his job. After the six weeks of training Okumu and his colleagues spent  footing the rent and feeding charges upcountry, three weeks later he only received Shs 30,000 from his company as advance pay to help him meet rent and other basics of life in the city. At the end of November, the month he started working, he is supposed to get Shs 70,000 as remainder of his monthly wages.

Wilson Musana, another private security guard in another company who has been in this service for three years gives a similar account. Musana claims that some officers/supervisors take advantage of the offences and fines form which they are always ready to hand to any guard caught flouting the rules. To work in these companies you need to persevere, Musana says in consolation tone. Such narrations are widely shared among guards across the private security organizations (PSOs) which stepped in to beef up the security of person and property in the country.

Following the liberalisation of the economy in 1990s, it took nearly 10 years to have a considerable increase in the number of PSOs. By 2000, Uganda had about seven PSOs but since then the number has surged to over 50 in a space of less than nine years. Security 2000 which begun to operate in 1988 is possibly the oldest PSO in the country. Others like Armour Group, Group 4, Saracen, and Tight Security Ltd had opened shop by end of 1998.

Although the PSOs have helped in improving security, constant complaints of low pay, theft and misuse of fire arms by the guards are never ending. Most guards who spoke to The Independent are paid between Shs 80,000 and 120,000 yet they guard goods worth millions of money.  On average, companies that contract them pay Shs 350,000 and individuals hiring guards pay Shs 200,000 per month to the PSO but at the end of it all what the guard is given is far too little. With Shs 120,000 salary, this is of course received by those who are lucky, the private security guard has to eat, pay rent, dress and save at least. Yet the cheapest room in a Kampala slum is Shs 60,000 moreover without electricity, a cheap meal goes for Shs 1,500, and in a day one has to have at least two meals. At the end of the month food alone can take Shs 90,000! Beside the guard has to meet other life’s basics such water, soap, toothpaste, clothing, shoe polish, transport, etc. Some even have families to look after.

It is said an expatriate hired one of these private security guards but on realising how little a guard is paid he called the guard’s company to collect their guard citing the fact that he would risk his property worth millions; “What if you rob me?” he reportedly wondered.

 According to Christine Kabiite, SEK Security Services’ administrative officer, guards are paid wages basing on the time they have spent in service. Those who are fresh in the service “are paid not less than Shs 100,000 for six months. And once they clock a year some money is added on their wages every month for up to four years,” says Kabiite. The highest amount of money one gets at the end of these four years is Shs 180,000 per month, she says. The guards are paid when they work over time and on public holidays. Each guard ought to work for 12 hours in a day.

According to Mohamed Allibhai, the managing director Tight Security Ltd, the guards are paid according to their performance and increase in pay is based on the guard’s no offences charged record, how long one has served the company and his or her loyalty to the company. It is here that one is given a salary ranging from Shs 160,000 to Shs 200,000.

Offences and fines

Be that as it may, even when the month ends the guard may not receive the full amount of the wages because there are hurdles this money must jump; that of offences that attract monetary fines. The offences include 15 minute late reporting for duty which attracts a fine of Shs 1,000. Other are wearing un-ironed uniform, unpolished shoes, shoe lace not tied, hair not cut to less than an inch, sleeping while on duty, absenteeism without notice, abandoning duty and loss of ammunition, found drunk and smelling alcohol at the work place, among others. These attract fines between Shs 2,000 and Shs 20,000 with some resulting in prosecution.

Allibhai denies the existence of some these offences in his PSO but says those fines they implement are done in the name of effecting discipline among guards. He says the fines are implemented after serving the guard with three written warnings.

But some guards whom The Independent spoke to said there are some junior officers who have turned fines into a business. “They are always on standby to nab you and force you to sign the offences form,” said one of the guards. The fine is deducted from the salary. Besides the guards in some these PSOs are urged to remit at least Shs 10,000 to NSSF. Some of those who have dared to go to NSSF offices to inquire found there was no money being remitted for the 13 months they had been told they were paying for NSSF.

Kabiite says deductions on wages come in form of fines and says it depends on the company one works for. “If a guard is to work at a particular station and does not report for duty without a reasonable excuse and a client is not guarded but expects to get the service we have to hire someone to fill in the gap. And the guard has to be fined,” she said. She says guards have “passes” for sick leave which has not to exceed 7 days a month.

Buying the uniform?

Guards say they are made to buy the uniforms for the companies they work for. Uniforms are sold at a price higher than the guard’s monthly wages. After recruitment and deployment, Shs 25,000 is deducted from the guard’s miserable pay during the six months probation. But Allibhai, who currently is chairman of the Uganda Private Security Association (UPSA), says it is not true that guards buy the uniform.

“PSOs realised that some guards after training go to Iraq and some after making some money for school fees return to school “taking our uniform with them. So in order to prevent this we deduct Shs 12,500 per month for 12 months from the guard but at the end, the guard claims this money and takes it,” he said.

The Tight Security Ltd uniform that includes a cap, a shirt, a pair of trousers, boots, a rain coat, electronic identity card, and a bag is charged Shs 150,000 which is over and above the monthly wages newly recruited guards get.

Guards at SEK pay for the uniform they put on which includes clothing, a cap, and identity card at Shs 45,000 but when one resigns or terminates their services they have their money for uniform refunded. “We do this as a security guarantee if the guard decides to leave the company. The uniform is not sold as such, we want to avoid scenarios where someone can use our uniform for wrong things,” said Kabiite.

For 12 hours work, a guard at SEK gets an average of Shs 4,000 which come to Shs 124,000 a month. She says they recruit their personnel from upcountry to avoid incidences of recruiting guards who have been dismissed from other private security agencies.

A comparison of pay structure of these private security companies shows a stark difference in the way they pay guards. Some guards get Shs 80,000 a month and to boost their meager pay they are forced to do two jobs a day. It is some of these that usually go for night duty and are found sleeping on the job. Some ride boda boda motorcycles to eke a living. This is even tricky because such people are already tired having worked at night.

Because there is no minimum wage in this country, the Assistant Police Commissioner in charge of private security organizations and control of fire arms, Good Mwesigwa, says the guards are vulnerable to exploitation resulting from low pay. This a big challenge as it makes PSOs pay guards any amount of money they so wish, says Mwesigwa, adding that: it has given room to so much exploitation. We as police cant set the price ceiling. He says, adding that most of these PSOs target the disadvantaged and vulnerable people for recruitment.

He says lack of an accredited private security personnel training school makes it harder to regulate the quality of guards produced. Unlike the army and police that have training academies, the private security guards are trained by individual companies though Mwesigwa says they train following guidelines from the police.

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The PSOs train under different systems and categories basing on their operation license. The categories include A which specializes in guard and escort services, category B specializing in investigations, C dealing in guard, escort, electronic alarms and surveillance services. It appears many PSOs fall in this category as many of them claim to offer all these services. Each of these categories attracts a different pay.

Allibhai is emphatic that the fact that a guard guards property worth millions of shillings is not a justification for higher pay. Should we say because they are guarding a bank of billions of money so we should pay them in millions? No, we pay basing on salary scales. Pay has nothing to do with what is being guarded it is discipline that matters, he says.

If PSO is lenient enough it makes these desperate guards accept loans from the company. These come in form of advance. At the end of the month the guard finds they are indebted. As such they cannot think of leaving the company unless sacked or dismissed due to ill health.

It might seem normal in Uganda for people working in security agencies to receive little pay; as it is the case in the Uganda Police Force where Shs 170,000 is paid to junior police officers. Perhaps if policy makers enacted the minimum wage law, Okumu and Musana would be telling a different story, that of better treatment, at least.

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