Security Association Shooting Themselves In The Foot

T. Mogan and Friends: Do these guards know that they’re posing for a photo accompanying an interview which asks NOT to raise pay?
T. Mogan and Friends: Do these guards know that they’re posing for a photo accompanying an interview which asks NOT to raise pay?

I read with some dismay last month the Security Association of Singapore’s chief’s statement about proposed progressive wage model guides for security professionals.

It is positions like that which pose the biggest obstacles to better jobs and working conditions for lower income workers which NTUC has been calling for. Security guards remain one of the lowest paid workers in Singapore, and it is damn sian to hear people complaining that “gahmen don’t care about low wage workers” while at the same time railing against proposed improved wages.

Mr T. Mogan’s complaint in the ST interview, that “flexibility” is needed in place of Progressive Wage increases are a disservice to his industry.

The whole idea of progressive wages (as opposed to a wholesale minimum wage system) is flexibility. You don’t raise wages just ‘cos you think you need to – the work that is tied to the wage increase has to be improved.

Furthermore, security companies have also been complaining that since the rule was implemented several years ago to restrict security professionals to Singaporeans and PRs, “cannot find security officers – nobody want to work”.

As a friend in the HR business puts it – “then pay them more lah, wah lao.”

Before you get more shrill in your protests about higher overheads and needing to shut your businesses down, please, read on:

Your security business is in need of a serious revamp. The entire industry is. This dependence on low wage workers to service clients in a 24hr a day service is so very obviously not sustainable. I’m sorry, but you have to be the ones, together with your customers, to bite the bullet.

You may well protest against even that – saying you have done everything you can – improved the workers’ wages and trained them – but the fact remains that your customers still need to have 24hr a day security guarding, and that has become a lot more expensive with the wage increase, and therefore a wage increase does not and cannot create an increase in productivity.

But what if you exercised the other letter in the acronym PIC (Productivity and Innovation Credit – see also “free Gahmen money”): “Innovation”?

What if you took the shocking step of telling your customer, “eh boss, acherly hor, you no need 2 shifts x 12hr x day security guard – we can use centralized CCTV so you share one team of 2 roving security guards for this 16 square km area. Any sign of trouble – like somebody forget to close security door, the alarm will alert the guards to come and investigate. Around the same price. Can?”

Who will foot the bill, you say? That’s too radical, you say?

There’s a Swedish company in Singapore that’s already doing that – Securitas. Roving guard teams, state-of-art surveillance systems, centralized security details, highly trained and certified officers who are paid higher than industry standard. Smart, happy security guards backed by technology. Who dowan?

The more Singapore security companies start to innovate, the more customers will get round to understanding what they need. It’s the same like in 2007 – people didn’t know they needed a smart phone which could do everything else apart from making voice calls, and which in fact has reduced the number of voice calls.

For instance, most condos don’t actually need security guards if you think about it. You don’t even really need a doorman or a carpark attendant – which is what most condo guards double and triple up as. Replace this staffing with one daytime caretaker and a security surveillance system like the one described above. Double confirm can one.

As to who will foot the bill, sorry friend, you have to put some money down into the industry you’ve known and loved and want to see improved. But don’t worry, got free monies in the form of PIC, NTUC’s e2i Inclusive Growth Programme and more.

If you take a look here, you’ll see that in some instances, if you wanted to invest in $100,000 worth of equipment/software, you may only end up effectively paying $5,000 of the total cost, and think that Christmas has come early.

Meantime, tolong please, raise pay – gahmen will pay 40% of your wage increase.

The Progressive Wage Model Looks Horrible On Paper (Literally)

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I am extremely impressed at NTUC Secretary-General’s aversion to Powerpoint. I would have switched off at probably the second slide or so if he had used it.

Instead (you can see an example of his freehand presentation in this video at 0:53s) there was a refreshingly engaging encounter as Mr Lim Swee Say spent over two hours explaining the role of the NTUC, how he got to become Secretary-General, and what his aims were in trying to improve the labour market situation as well as ameliorate the social costs of economic growth.

Unless you’re an economist, or labour market policy maker, you’re likely to still find the session as interesting as watching the glowing logo on top of the NTUC Centre building change colour. Or less.

I was still curious to know why there was an aversion to a mandatory national minimum wage, or even different minimum wages for different industries. Some supporters of minimum wage already claim that Singapore isn’t doing enough to lift the lowest wages off the floor, like what Hong Kong (HKD 3,580 per month for foreign domestic workers) and Malaysia (USD 281.60 per month for the private sector) are doing.

There is no such thing as the perfect market, and Mr Upturn The Downturn gave a refresher course on labour economics for those turned off because a junior college economics lecturer insisted on referring to something called “Kee-Nee-Sian” economics. (It was only in my first semester of university, after having been made the laughing stock of my first year econs class that I started pronouncing it as students of John Maynard Keynes intended.)

Two permanent ink marker pens and six sheets later, I was aware of a thing called the Progressive Wage Model, as opposed to a silver bullet or “shock therapy” Minimum Wage Model proposed by some.

Instead of merely boosting pay, the labour movement has been, since June last year, aiming to improve the lowest earning workers’ “productivity, skills and career prospects” by means of highly subsidised skills training. The NTUC has also been apparently instrumental in getting government ministries and agencies – themselves very large employers, to only engage companies who let their staff participate in skills training – a move which will earn them accreditation necessary to win government contracts.

The NTUC also has to work in concert with Government to ensure that jobs are created, and that these jobs are filled without employers resorting to and relying on cheap, imported labour at the expense of productivity.

It is a tough balance to strike, and whether the Progressive Wage Model is a better model than a one-stop Minimum Wage as Lim Swee Say says it is may be a bit too early to tell.

I will have you all know that it hasn’t got much to do with Cheaperer, Betterer, Fasterer. The Secretary-General did attempt to explain his much maligned motto in context, but that’s for another story.