New amendments to the Private Security Industry (Conduct) Regulations, unnecessarily harsh on security guards

by Loh Teck Yong

Today, I fell asleep at my workplace and the cops came down to arrest me. I will be facing a 3-month jail sentence. FML.

It sounds like a very bad FML joke, right? Except, it’s not.

With effect from 1st January 2019, security guards who display errant behaviour while on the job can face a fine of not more than S$2000 and/or a jail sentence of not more than 3 months.

Errant behaviour here includes dozing off, using abusive language and going missing from one’s deployment point without a valid reason. And yes, professional security guards really shouldn’t be doing any of those things at work. Personally, I think that it wouldn’t be going too far to dismiss a guard who constantly doze off or use abusive language at work.

But what’s this about a S$2000 fine and 3-month jail sentence? Is this somebody’s failed attempt at making a joke?

Unfortunately, Singapore’s civil servants are not known for their sense of humour so we can only assume it’s fact, not fiction. It’s not a joke, but let us talk about why it sounds like one to security guards.

Security guards work ridiculously-long hours!

Yes, they do. There has been some talk about reducing the overtime hours for security guards but, as far as I know, full-time security guards in Singapore are still committed to a 72-hour work week.

That’s 12 hours per day for 6 days per week. Try working these hours for a month or two, and then we can have another chat about dozing off at work. But be careful. Should you accidentally doze off for a moment in the middle of your 12-hour shift, you could be facing a S$2000 fine or a 3-month jail sentence. Or both.

What that happens, maybe you will feel a little more sympathetic towards security guards. And hopefully, when you find yourself in such sad straits, you will be able to appreciate that asking for more humane treatment towards security guards is not such an unreasonable thing after all.

A 72-hour work week is tough enough for most people, but what about a 96-hour or 120-hour work week? I am talking about 4 or 5 consecutive 24-hour shifts in a row. Think you can stay awake for that long without dozing off?

It is illegal but there are unscrupulous security agencies out there who make their employees work 24-hour shifts. Most of the time, both employee and employer are willing partners in the scam, but it’s not unheard of for security agencies to coerce their employees into performing overtime.

So do you think it is fair? Suppose a security guard was shanghaied into working another 12-hour shift on top of the one he had just completed? And then he dozed off at his desk because he’s only human. Do you think it’s right to fine him S$2000 or send him to prison for 3 months because his body reacted to sleep deprivation the same way any of ours would?

When I fell asleep during field training in the army, I was just assigned extra guard duties as my punishment!

Security guards have to work under abusive conditions!

A working adult has a duty to his employer to conduct himself in a professional manner at his workplace. And adults should be mature enough to know not to swear in public anyway. BUT, how many of us are such saints as to be able to maintain decorum under adverse conditions?

Suppose a group of juvenile delinquents surround you and start hurling expletives at you? Suppose a drunk starts slapping you about all of a sudden? Suppose some random stranger approaches you and starts to make vulgar comments about your parents?

Look, I didn’t just conjure up these scenarios in my imagination. These are incidents I have either experienced or witnessed myself while I was working as a security guard. So put yourself in their shoes for a moment. It’s not easy to get hold of a regular supply of abusers but, imagine if you will, having to put up with a steady stream of scoldings and beatings for the rest of your working life. Can you honestly say you will never, not once, retaliate in kind?

That’s a human thing to do and nobody will really blame you giving in to the human urge to retaliate with strong words when you find yourself getting abused by random strangers. Unless you happen to be a security guard. In which case, not only will you get the blame but a S$2000 fine and/or a 3-month jail sentence as well.

This sounds like a joke but I am not laughing.

Security guards are not protected!

One of the new amendments to the Private Security Industry (Conduct) Regulations state that, beginning on 1st January 2019, a security guard who fails to respond promptly to any request for assistance from anyone at their workplace shall also be liable to the S$2000 fine and/or the 3-month jail sentence, if the person requesting assistance has suffered personal injury or damage to his/her property.

Okay, okay. There’s nothing wrong with being a good Samaritan. What’s wrong with this “Good Samaritan Law” is that it only seeks to punish security guards for not giving timely assistance but does nothing to protect them from any backlashes that might arise as a result of their actions.

A few months ago, I self-published Guards Gone Wild!, a memoir about my experiences in the private security industry. In my book, I detailed several episodes where I came under attack while carrying out my duties. At a certain shopping mall for example, after I was mobbed and threatened by delinquents at a mall while carrying out enforcement on behalf of the management, the mall executives decided that they didn’t want any fuss and told me to treat the incident as my “personal problem”. After that, my agency’s manager came down to threaten me with police action if I chose to kick up a fuss over my plight.

That’s one reason why security guards prefer not to intervene in fights. Another reason is because they have seen too many examples of colleagues who were either dismissed or re-assigned after heroic interventions. And a re-assigned guard can’t even complain, because he hasn’t lost his job with the agency. It’s just that, maybe, instead of working at a location close to home, a re-assigned guard may have to spend an addtional hour traveling to his new workplace. It can be really destructive to someone working a 72-hour work week.

What I am trying to say here isx a this. Look, it’s not that security guards are cowards who wish to shy away from their human obligation to help their fellow human beings. They just want some form of assurance that they will not lose their jobs (through dismissal or re-assignment) when they do step in to mediate between fighting factions and it would be nice if the higher-ups would look out for them when they have to enforce unpopular orders. And not, you know, toss them aside once things get messy. Like what happened to me at the mall.

Security guards are people too, you know.

And why are security guards held up to a higher standard?

In October 2017, an employee of Advanced Material Engineering stole the projectile of a High Explosive Incendiary ammunition round  from his workplace and threw it into a forested area near the plant. Just recently, the State Courts sentenced him to 3 months’ jail and he was also fined S$4000.

Three months’ jail. That’s what a security guard would get from 2019 onwards, if he were to doze off while on the job. Let me get this straight. Somehow, the government considers the matter of a security guard dozing off during his 12-hour shift to be just as serious as the theft and irresponsible dumping of a projectile from a HEI ammunition round? What kind of bizarro world are we living in now?

Also, are doctors, nurses, emergency workers or school teachers sent to prison for dozing off on the job? Or for using bad language at the workplace? Sure, doctors and nurses can get charged with negligence if patients die under their care, but I haven’t heard of a case where a doctor or nurse is sent to prison just for catching some shut-eye at the hospital.

You know, if you go for your medical training in the US, you must first complete a 4-year undergraduate degree program, spend 4 years in medical school and then complete 3-7 years of residency training before you are eligible for medical licensing. That’s a minimum of 11 years of rigorous education before you can call yourself a doctor. Let that sink in for a moment.

Now, it’s easier to become a nurse. But even then, it takes 4 years to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

So why are security guards held up to a higher standard than these professionals? In Singapore, if you want to start working in the private security industry, you can just go for classroom training that lasts about a week.  

The pen-pushers at the top really should learn to walk in the shiny black shoes of security guards for a bit before using their “value” as front-line defenders and higher wages as excuses to implement such harsh punishments. If security guards were really valued as front-line soldiers, guardians of property and defenders of the realms of men, then they shouldn’t have to put up with the abuse and neglect that is so prevalent in the industry.

And “higher wages” is relative. What security guards are getting now may seem like a fortune to a labourer from a third-world country but it’s really no big deal compared to what professionals like doctors and nurses are getting. So once again, why are they held up to a higher standard than these professionals?

I ask you, dear Sirs, to re-consider your decision to implement such unrealistically harsh punishments on us. Such extreme accountability should only fall upon those whose responsibilities match their power, not powerless workers like security guards.

Loh Teck Yong, the author of this article, has worked extensively in the private security industry.  He’s also the author of Guards Gone Wild!, a memoir of his experiences in the private security industry。