One of the truly remarkable paradoxes in the field of organizational management, must be the role and function of security guards. If ever there was a group of workers whose functions vested in them a level of responsibility, authority and autonomy equal to that of any CEO, it is the security guards. The problem, of course, is that they are among the lowest paid workers in Jamaica; receive no benefits, gratuity or decent salary to compensate for their level of decision-making in assisting organizations to accomplish their goals.
During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, their role in ensuring the safety and security of the organisation, its staff and customers, was as equally important as our frontline essential workers in the health sector. But the security guards were not given sufficient credit, not duly acknowledged for their roles then and now, and are still plagued by industry and societal standards that have done precious little to unveil the psychological insecurity amidst the distress linked to the conditions of their work.
There are obvious indications that we have reached a critical inflection point in how we do business in Jamaica because of the impact of Covid-19 on our social and economic lives. Even in a period of ‘new normal’ it cannot be business as usual, even though, if not careful, organisations run the risk of being throttled in its midst by pedantic overloads. If this is to be avoided, we would undoubtedly require a new cadre of frontline managers to take on the task of ‘gatekeepers’.
Qualifications aside, work experience and performance standards are appropriate measurements that could be used to validate the selection of security guards for the position of ‘frontline mangers’. In the six months or more, since we have declared Covid-19 a pandemic in Jamaica, we have had to rely on security guards to lead, manage, direct and control organisational inflows and outflows to maintain efficiency and the overall strategic aim of the business. At supermarkets, in financial institutions, fast-food establishments, pharmacies and other public places, it is the security guards who direct you where to stand, ensure you maintain appropriate social distance in keeping with health protocols, sanitize your hands, check your temperatures and finally determine if and when you enter the building to conduct business.
On one occasion, at a Western Union outlet, it was the security guard who had to converse with the customer in Spanish, and provide assistance in the proper completion of the form. Whether you are a doctor, engineer, politician, professor or a person of fame and notoriety, you cannot enter any public building without first checking with the security guard and conform to the requirements he or she outlines.
In addition to that, these security guards are expected to maintain their core function, that is, to safeguard the establishment from criminal wrong-doings and to ensure law and order and peace prevail during the conduct of business. When all of that is complete and the organisation closes its door to the public, it is the security guards who have the responsibility to oversee the safety and security of the multi-billion-dollar investments – the buildings, equipment and all its contents – until the open of business the next morning.
For all of this they are paid a pittance, told that they are not a ‘worker’ within the meaning of Jamaica’s labour laws, and therefore do not qualify for certain statutory benefits and protection. They work long hours, have to learn to multi-tasks, while other employees carry out their single tasks in the comfort and assurance that, in the turbulence of Jamaica’s crime situation, the security guards are there to watch their backs.
It was on one of my visits to a JMMB branch recently that I became fully aware of the significance of their role in business activities. At many of these public places during the past six months, I have sense a fierce confidence in their own ability to carry out the tasks with diligence and conviction; how much the covid experience has distinguished in them an enhanced level of professionalism, social savoir-faire and a readiness for any emergency.
It is now time for us to give security guards due recognition, elevate their status, ensure they work in conditions of dignity and respect, appropriately compensated and provided with statutory protection and benefits. These are the conditions of decent work and the basic but fundamental requirements necessary for a quick and sustainable recovery in the post-Covid-19 period, so says our international partners.