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Dark times for nightwatchmen

by Mahlomola Skosana organiser of the Vukani Security Guards Union

Thousands of contract workers work in the security industry in cities and towns all over South Africa. Some of the security companies make big profits by breaking the law and exploiting their workers.

These companies exploit their workers because there are few jobs in the homelands and because of the pass laws. Workers in the “homelands” are promised a living wage, good working conditions, free uniforms, comfortable hostels and free trans­port. If a worker has a family to feed and has not worked for two or three years, they will not say no to such a good offer. And so many workers take jobs with these companies.

When workers start the jobs, many soon find that the companies do not keep their promises. They are treated very badly and their lives are more miserable than before. Here are some examples:

  1. Workers are dumped in hostels. Many of these hostels have concrete beds, broken windows and doors. Many workers pay up to R35 for a bed every month.

  2. Some are not registered but the firm still takes money from their wages. They take money for tax and U IF. Workers are also sometimes fined if the company says they were sleeping on the job.

  3. The uniforms are not free. Workers pay for the uniforms and the firm promises to pay them back when they leave the job. This often does not happen.

  4. Companies like Springbok Patrols sometimes assault their workers. Other companies also sometimes assault their workers.

  5. The companies often do not train their workers for the job.

  6. Workers work very long hours. The law says a security guard must work a 12 hour shift. But the workers sometimes have to work up to 16 hours a shift. It’s worse on weekends – workers some times work a 60 hour shift on weekends.

  7. The conditions are very bad. There may be no toilets or even a guard room. If there is a guard room, there may be no heater in winter.

  8. Some workers must pay for their own transport because the trucks do not fetch them in time.

  9. Only the lucky workers get a day off each week. Some workers work for three months before they get a day off.

  10. The companies want the workers to be clean and tidy at all times. The workers have to pay to keep their uniforms clean.

The union has many problems when we try to organise the workers in the industry. Some companies don’t like unions and they sometimes fire workers who join unions.

Many workers cannot have meetings in the hostels because there are no halls. And workers can’t plan meetings because they do not know when they will have some free time. This make the union’s work very difficult.

The union also has other problems. When we complain to the Department of Manpower, we get very little help. They make excuses. They say that they do not have enough staff.

There is also no industrial council for security workers. In other industries, unions can sit on the industrial councils to fight for their members. A Wage Board decides how much security workers must get. And these wages never keep up with the cost of living. Workers always lose out to the companies who make big profits by exploiting their workers .

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