The Straits Times (6 December 2021)
For security officers on duty, saying “no” can lead to tense encounters with members of the public.
And Covid-19 safety measures have made officers on duty more susceptible to abuse as they try to enforce rules like safe distancing measures and perform duties like manning gantries.
One Sunday last month, security supervisor Muhamad Faizal had to report five cases of abuse against officers at Lucky Plaza to the police, including one where a cyclist knocked a female officer over when she told him he could not stop by the roadside.
Another man hurled profanities and threatened an officer who denied him entry into the shopping mall because he did not have his TraceTogether token for contact tracing, before making a run for it.
Mr Faizal, 26, told The Straits Times: “If we turn people away, they scold us. Sometimes they try to assault us. Usually if it is a small matter we try to settle it ourselves, but sometimes we have to call the police.”
Abuse cases have been on the rise, according to a survey of security officers conducted by the Union of Security Employees (USE) between September and November last year. Some 40 per cent of 1,002 officers surveyed said they had encountered abuse. This marked a 10 per cent increase compared with a study conducted between January and February last year, when Covid-19 measures were far lighter.
USE executive secretary Steve Tan said that trying to enforce Covid-19 safety measures can be tough.
“Telling people to put on a mask or stop smoking and chatting can be confrontational as the job is to enforce measures and get the public to follow the rules,” he said.
A Bill was passed in Parliament on Oct 5 to better protect officers, introducing heavier penalties for those who abuse security officers on duty.
In a double boost for those in the industry, some 40,000 employees in 265 security agencies will also see their wages rise annually over six years after the Government accepted proposals from a tripartite committee on the security wage ladder on Nov 12.
The basic monthly wage for security officers who are lowestranked on the ladder will more than double from $1,650 in 2023 to $3,530 by 2028.
The announcements are welcome relief for officers, said Mr Tan.
Regarding the amended law, he said: “It’s good; we’ve been lobbying for this for very long and it provides more protection for the officers. This is where we add more power to back them.”
Director of Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) Estate Office Jeremy Soh, who oversees 100 officers, said there have been an average of around three cases of abuse – verbal abuse, threats or physical abuse – recorded against officers each month for the past six months.
“However, a number of cases may not have been reported, with many security officers believing it is part and parcel of their work,” Mr Soh noted.
Reliance Security Services (RSS) operations manager Jeremiah Wang, 28, has had to double as a security officer over the Covid-19 period due to a shortage of manpower, and he has been posted to various condominiums in that time.
Disputes with residents at condominiums have been more frequent, he said, often because they flout Covid-19 measures.
RSS managing director Mack N. Nambiar said abusive residents often do not face consequences as most managements take the side of their tenants and prefer not to cause a stir.
He said the usual outcome for many officers in a conflict is to be swopped out at the request of the management.
“The support of the management is very important. Officers will appreciate it and be happy to work,” said Mr Mack. “It is sometimes a case of four guards looking after thousands of people – you have to think about the guards.”
Results of the next USE survey will be published next month, as fieldwork was held up by various restrictions due to the pandemic, said Mr Tan.
It has now been nearly eight months since security supervisor Mr Faizal was posted to Lucky Plaza.
“I will feel better when the new laws come around. Some people can be very polite but others just want to find trouble,” he said.
“But I know I can’t fight back because if I do, I could lose my licence.”