Security guard
Mzee Kamau Wa Njagi in a cereals store at Bahati Estate,Ol,kalou.He works as a watchman at the store to earn a living

How much does the security guard at your residence, office or favourite shopping mall earn? The Kenya National Private Security Workers’ Union says most are grossly underpaid, earning as low as Sh5,000 in monthly wages and living from hand to mouth.

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 KNPSWU secretary general Isaac Andabwa says most are earning below the minimum monthly wage of Sh14,421 and work under inhumane conditions, as the Labour ministry drags implementation of the minimum pay regulation. Andabwa spoke to The Star.

Q: What is the number of security guards in the country. Do they play their role, and what are their grievances?

A: The number of private security officers in Kenya is around 500,000, according to the government. They are employed in about 2,000 firms. In comparison with the National Police Service, we are ahead of them by 400,000, because they have about 100,000 officers.

The issue of payment is the problem we are still talking about. There are security workers earning Sh5,000 or Sh8,000.

They can’t engage a lawyer to negotiate for a Collective Bargain Agreement because they are not in unions, and if you don’t have a strong union, there is no way you can negotiate for a CBA.

Almost 90 per cent of private security companies have not complied with government regulations setting the minimum wage at Sh14,000.

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Those that have complied are countable: G4S, KK, SGA, Securex, Wells Fargo, BM and a few others. They are less than 10.

The rest don’t pay workers in accordance with the law because somebody in the government is not doing their job in terms of tendering procedure and enforcement of the law.

You cannot be talking about exploitation of Kenyans working for Chinese in SGR, claiming that the Chinese employer is frustrating and exploiting Kenyans yet and I have reported to the Labour ministry about 2,000 employers who are exploiting workers.

Kenyans themselves don’t respect the constitution. Before we deal with the SGR and Chinese, lets deal with our own who are betraying their own and set the pace.

We cannot pretend that the Chinese have caused a lot of problems to Kenyans, while Kenyan employers are exploiting and stealing from their employees — their countrymen — with impunity.

Why has the underpayment persisted, despite the government setting the minimum pay for all workers, and has the union intervened on non-compliance?

The enforcement of the minimum wage is entirely the responsibility of the Labour ministry under the labour commission.

But even the firm guarding the ministry’s offices, Hatari Security, is paying guards less than Sh10,000.

It is an irony. We cannot now begin saying the problem is the employer or the worker. The problem is the same government because Kenyans don’t have powers to control bandit employers.

Gyto, which is also not complying with the requirements, is guarding Judiciary premises, but a few others who have complied are left out.

Relatives of a Security guards

How did they find their way into that office, and who approved them? What that says is that the government itself has some serious problems.

The government should only contract employers who have complied with the minimum wage policy. You don’t take thieves, corrupt people who are operating with impunity, and plant them at the Supreme Court and NSSF [Labour ministry offices]. That is totally wrong.

 Has the union sought the court’s intervention over the Labour ministry’s failure to enforce the regulations?

We are in court with the Gyto Security Company because of non-issuance of payslip, but that is the employer now guarding the Supreme Court and other law courts.

That is the image of the government and is supposed to serve as an example. If you can see Gyto at the Supreme Court, just know at the back of your mind that there is corruption.

Even [Chief Justice David] Maraga must understand that he can’t employ somebody who is underpaying, who is stealing from a worker, then give him a contract to guard the image of the government, in terms of the justice arm of the government.

If the person who is guarding Maraga’s office is a criminal, he [Maraga] is tainting not only the image of the government but he is also telling us that he is also not honest with what he is doing.

Because if somebody is to get a contract, he must have fulfilled the minimum requirements. Otherwise, where do we say this person has qualified for the contract? When somebody does not issue a payslip to a worker, what that means is that he is not only stealing from an employee but also from the government, because he does not pay the PAYE and other taxes.

If the judiciary engages somebody like Gyto, then you know Kenya is still very far from accountability and doing the things we are supposed to do in the way we are supposed to do them.

What has the union been doing to improve security workers’ lives and working conditions?

When we started the KNPSWU in 2010, my assignment was to make it more vibrant and mobilise workers and make them understand their rights.

At that time, telling a guard that I want you to join a union was like a mountain, because they believed joining a union is a direct request for dismissal, as I personally fell victim of that after forming the union.

The workers union — Kenya Guards — was non-functional because officials were drawn from other sectors. I made sure that to be an official, from shop stewards to all the way to national offices, you must have worked in the private security sector, failing which you have no business being an official.

They did not come from the rank and files of the private security service, which meant they did not have the problems of the workers at heart. They just came to scout for funds and then disappear.

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They could not understand where the problems of the private security sector were coming from because they were not part of the engagement.

We declared that we needed to have a constitution that has the interests of private security sector officers at heart.

In terms of salary, the workers’ pay at that time in comparison to now was pathetic. Most people were getting meagre salaries, and the workers’ trade union was in ICU because there was no representation and workers were being terminated recklessly.

We have managed to organise 100,000 members, and the organisation is ongoing. Previously we had an official in the eight former provinces, but we have gone beyond that up to county levels.

We want to register our presence in every county so that our members on the ground realise they need to belong to the union, are enlightened and are taught the importance of being unionisable members.

How do the security guards and their employers perceive the union, and what are the guarantees on job security for those joining KNPSWU? 

We are telling the private security guards that if professors are in Uasu, teachers in Knut, nurses in KNUN and workers in government have unions and are more enlightened than ourselves, then we must also be in a union.

And I have begun seeing the fruits. For the first time in this sector, since Independence, the government has begun recognising the private security officer.

[Interior CS Fred] Matiang’i is talking about giving private security officers a gun. That is what we wanted. And we are saying, you cannot give a gun to a guard who is hungry. We must tell them that in order for you to remove yourself from a watchman, you must begin saving so that as you are carrying a gun, you have some money as a civilised person.

We have seven CBAs lined up, and if you remember Ambrose Ondongo of Knut, he fought for years and however vocal he was, he never signed any CBA; he was only talking of a minimum wage. Wilson Sossion was the first to sign a CBA, and you can imagine that period.

The culture we want to inculcate in the guards is that even if you are getting a few coins, have a culture of saving and borrowing. That is why the President initiated the National Sacco for private security workers. We want every guard to be a member of the sacco.

Source: The Star