Working as a security guard or watchman is, by the nature of the job, quite a challenge the world over. It is even more challenging in Malawi where most security firms ignore the government set minimum monthly wage of K35,000 by underpaying their workers. As MATHEWS KASANDA has found out, most security firms deduct their employees’ wages unnecessarily even for genuine reasons such as being absent from work due to an illness.
Most security firms’ employees in the country are struggling to make ends meet due to unfavourable working conditions.
Most of the security guards work from 6 o’clock in the evening to 6 o’clock in the evening yet get a salary of less than K25,000 monthly.
The security guards are earning that little even when the government has reviewed minimum wage to K35,000 per month.
The Daily Times engaged security officers from different security companies which confided in this newspaper that despite having K25,000 on paper as their monthly pay, they get less than that due to unexplained deductions.
Usually, the security guards work the whole day with only a day off per week.
“I stay very far. I walk to and from work every day. I spend one hour walking between the two destinations,” said a woman who works as a security officer at Rangers Security Services.
The Daily Times found her at her work place working at lunch hour without any food for a meal.
When she was being interviewed, there were several breaks in-between the conversation when she had to run to open the gate for incoming and outgoing vehicles.
On average, there was a vehicle passing through the gate every five minutes, as such, she could barely sit down to relax.
A single mother of two, who we shall call Ethel, earns K25,000 per month.
She arrives home at around 7 o’clock in the evening and leaves for work at 5 o’clock in the morning every day.
“I pay K12,000 as house rentals, and I have a small child who I cannot leave with neighbours. He goes to a nursery school where I pay K4,000.
“His sibling is five years old. She goes to a government-owned primary school. I struggle to feed them every morning and all day,” Ethel said.
She added that they have tried to push for better working conditions and pay hike, but what the seniors tell them is: “Ngati sukukhutiritsidwa nazo zomwe ukupeza, siya ntchito, kapeze kwina [if you are not satisfied with what you earn here, go and find another job].”
Her work-mate sheds more light on the same. In spite of opting for anonymity in fear of losing their jobs, all the sources have been open in explaining their grievances.
They said the company’s top officials addressed them last month informing that they would be adopting the government’s newly approved minimum wage rate of K35,000, but the decision was reversed.
The workers got their January pay of K25,000 mid-February.
They have been informed that the client whom they are providing services to, has not raised the amount they pay to the company, as such, the security officers have been told to “pray hard” so that the client starts paying the revised amount, and that is when the pay would be hiked.
Responding to the complaints, Ranger Security Services Managing Director, Freeman Munyayi, said the company cannot increase the salary of its workers while the clients who the company renders the services to have not adjusted the payment.
“We have written letters to our clients informing them of the need to increase the payment. If they do so, we are also going to adjust the salaries. We are not refuting to increase they pay. If they [clients] adjusts up the payment, we will also increase the salaries” Munyayi said.
He argued that if companies that the firm renders its services to heed to the firm’s plea, failing to meet the minimum wage would be stealing from the government.
He further refuted claims that they deduct K2,500 from the wages of their employees when they absent themselves from work.
“If one is absent, we divide K25,000 by 30 days, and we deduct that from that salary,” Munyayi said.
Several workers from another well-known security firm have also shared with this newspaper multiple cases of unfair treatments they get from their employer.
They said among other challenges, they face huge deductions from their pay whenever they are absent from work.
“We have been dragging them to Labour Office, but they have never attended any of the meetings despite that the Labour Office officials summon them.
“After noting that the company was not paying attention to the office’s calls, the Labour Office wrote a letter advising us to seek help from the Industrial Court who also summoned the company,” one of the workers said.
However, he said the company has also been defying the court’s calls twice.
The company deducts K7,500 every time a worker misses a day from work.
A letter from Blantyre District Office, which The Daily Times has seen, dated October 3 2019 and was addressed to the security company, reads: “He complains of not being paid the following: Instead of deducting their daily rate allowance when they absent themselves from work, you deduct half of the monthly salary.”
Blantyre District Office ordered the company to investigate the allegations and furnish the office with a response within 14 days from the date the letter was issued.
This newspaper has also seen another letter from the same office dated October 22 2019 reminding the same firm to report to the office, which never happened up to the day of this publication.
Blantyre District Labour Officer, who opted to be identified as M Kapichi, confirmed that his office wrote the letters to the company twice, but they never showed up and that is why they advised the complainants to seek court intervention.
A similar situation is faced by workers at Southern End Security Services (SESS).
Some of who workers The Daily Times has spoken to, said they are still getting old rate of wages indicating that their top boss is waiting for a nod from the company’s clients to increase the wages.
The workers have been getting K21,000 after deductions towards the purchase of their uniforms.
“They have now stopped the deduction; hence, we are getting K23,750,” says one of the workers at SESS who yesterday said they are yet to get the January pay.
Responding to the outcry of his workers, the firm’s Managing Director, Felix Nyamizinga, said he was aware of the minimum wage and has engaged clients to consider adjusting upwards the perks they pay a security officer.
Nyamizinga said some firms have been paying K40,000 per officer and he has engaged the clients to consider adjusting the same to K50,000.
“When we were bidding for the contract, this issue [adjusted minimum wage] was not there. We won that contract at K40,000 and from that K40,000 we were giving the employees K25,000,” Nyamizinga said.
He, however, said the company’s top officials had a meeting this week and are considering increasing the wages even before a nod from the clients.
On deductions from the wages, he said the company’s management has always been explaining to the employees of deductions on their pay.
Nyamizinga further admitted that they deduct K2,000 from every worker who absents themselves from work to deter them from absenteeism.
This newspaper has further established that most security firms’ employees have their wages deducted without an explanation.
One of the firm’s employees said instead of getting their K25,000 pay for January, some earn less than K20,000 with others pocketing less than K2,000, and have been told that the deduction is due to a visa card processing fee which is a must for every employer to have.
The employees are now pushing for an explanation from their bosses and are yet to get it.
Nevertheless, it has been learnt that whenever one is absent from work, some get K3,000 chopped from their pay.
In some firms, if an employee fails to go to work due to an illness, they have their one-day pay cut from monthly wages.
During the 2019/2020 National Budget sitting, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Joseph Mwanamvekha, announced that the minimum wage had been increased from K25,000 to K35,000 per month.
Although she asked for time before giving a full response, commenting on the issue of deductions and under-minimum wage payments, spokesperson in the Ministry of Labour, Christina Mkutumula, advised the workers to join Workers Unions to have a collective voice.