Security Today

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Finally, from Security Guards to Security Officers?

web-post March 8, 2017

The Ministry of Labour & Employment, Government of India vide its Gazette notification dated 19th January, 2017 has re-categorised security industry workers under MW Act and modified the minimum rate of daily pay applicable as follows:

  • Security guards without arms have been categorised as ‘Skilled Workers’ as against Semi Skilled Workers as per 2008 notification
  • Security guards with arms and Security Supervisors have been categorised as ‘Highly Skilled Workers’

The Central Government has also revised the minimum wage payable to the employees engaged in the employment of ‘Watch & Ward’ sector to Rs. 637 per day.

The notification came across like a whiff of fresh air in the long struggle for recognition that the Private Security Industry (PSI) had been engaged in with the government. The PSI, for years, had been convinced that their 50 lakh (5 million) plus workforce was capable of taking over many of the non-sensitive functions of the police forces, such as delivery of summons, all over the country, subject to the economic viability of such operations. However, it had been finding itself shackled with low wages and low social standing of its workforce, as  security guards in most states of India were categorised as unskilled workers and their wages were fixed at par with casual labourers!

However, after this notification it appears that the PSI would progressively  now be able to pay its guards better wages and the guards would end up gaining expertise and skills, thereby enhancing their social status. It also means that the PSI could be positioned to attract better talent to fill its cadres. It may even have the youth lining up at their recruitment centres hoping to be hired as private security personnel!

But was that what the notification really meant? What are the ground realities of this milestone of meeting the demands of the PSI and the government’s delivery? How will this pan out in the future?

The questions were many and in spite of the notification, quite a few things needed to be clarified. It was here that SECURITY TODAY decided to try and clear the fog surrounding the issue in a unique roundtable discussion where both the service providers and the end users sitting across the table discussed what this notification meant for different stakeholders. SECURITY TODAY aimed to establish how the new notification impacted the end users and what henceforth would be their expectations from the service providers considering that,  in future, many end-users would have to shell out more money each month to buy manned guarding services from the PSI. The objective was also to find out how the PSI was planning to respond to what the government wanted and what their customers would henceforth expect.

The elegant board room at the Sheraton in New Delhi was the venue where deliberations continued for over three hours with point by point discussions to bring forth the clarity. The discussion moderated by the Editor of SECURITY TODAY, Mr GB Singh, had some stalwarts from the industry as well as Security Directors and CSOs of some of the best known organisations, who brainstormed the issues at hand.

The manned guarding service providers around the table included Mr Rituraj Sinha, Chief Operating Officer of the SIS Group, Major Manjit Rajain, Chairman of Peregrine Guarding, Mr Mandeep Garewal, MD, Force Tech, and Mr Harkeerat Sahi, Director – Guard Operations, of the Mumbai based NISA.

The representation from the end users included Capt. Amit Sharma, Vice President, Bank Of America; Col Harendra Bana, Chairman-OSAC & Head of Security – PepsiCo; Capt SB Tyagi, DGM (Security), GAIL India; Col Shakti Sharma, National Head of Loss Prevention Value Operations, Reliance Retail Ltd. and Reliance Jio; Col Ravi Bedi, CSO from Maruti Suzuki India; Col. Rajesh Gulia, Global Security MEIA, Apple; Lt. Col. Sandeep Dahiya, Group Manager Security, Concentrix; Col BK Tyagi, CSO of Punjab National Bank; Ms Manjari Jaruhar, Chair, PSI Committee of FICCI and Major Avtar Singh, CPP, an industry veteran.

Mr GB Singh prefaced the discussion by stating that the notification was sure to have far reaching ramifications. “The fact remains that this will have an impact on all players. Impact on service providers, end users, the society and the guards themselves. Which is what this discussion will delve at length on” he said.
Mr Rituraj Sinha, also the Co-Chair of FICCI PSI Committee set the discussions rolling by apprising the gathering of what went into the eventual notification. He said that categorisation of security guards as skilled and unskilled varied from state to state over the years. “The issue was taken up by FICCI in 2013 since there was a desperate need for pan India harmonisation on the issue of categorisation of security workers. This is especially so because it is a mobile workforce which was expected to travel to other states to work. This was getting to be difficult since a guard couldn’t be considered skilled in one state and then be treated a unskilled in another state,” said Mr Sinha.

Would this also mean a substantial increase in pay rates of guards?

Mr Sinha also clarified that the pay rate is not going to change dramatically soon. That will depend on state wage boards and their willingness to adopt the central government’s recommendation. “However what will change is that security guards will be referred to as a skilled workforce now which will have far reaching ramifications over the years” he said. Effectively the guards will not be categorised in the minimum wage bracket as they have been done till now. Their salary would certainly be more attractive after the notification and there would be distinct prospects of increment in wages.

“This Central Government notification will get implemented at all central government owned locations and facilities all across India, but implementation within the state will still take some time. On the other hand, states like Karnataka and Haryana already have a separate category for security guards. What will happen is that the states will now take up the matter with their wage boards for revision of income which will eventually reflect on the salaries. There is a central Minimum Wages Act that is applicable to all central government undertakings across india. Then there are state minimum wages acts. However, now the states may feel inclined to follow the central pattern” clarified Mr Sinha.

Major Mandeep Garewal of Forcetech also felt that that the anomaly in the PSAR Act of 2005 created the problem since, as per the Act, a security guard needed 160 hours of training.“ Acts similar to the centre’s act were enacted by all the states in India which also stipulated the training for a security guard to be of 160 hours. If that is so, then all across India the guard who had undergone this training as per PSAR Acts should be deemed to be a  “trained” person. But this has not been happening so far, as the Acts relied on the labour ministry’s categorisation of security guards for the purpose of wages. So the notification will pave the way for a uniform categorisation of guards from here on” he said.

“The wage was never a part of the deliberations, our contention was if a guard has taken 160 hours of training under PSARA how could he be labeled as unskilled? This confusion arose because the PSAR Act and its implementation falls under the Home Departments of the Centre and the States while the categorisation of workmen comes under the Labour Ministry, and the subject of skilling the workforce falls under the ambit of the Skill Development Ministry. It’s good that the Central Labour Ministry has now issued this clarification” he said.

Major Manjit Rajain, hailing the notification said that it is always mandatory to have categorisation since a baseline has to be set. “What also needs to be done is to ensure that a standard of training is set and fixed so that the label of skilled and highly skilled is justified. Major Rajain also dwelt at length on the need for having a guard wage board so that the standards of payment are also uniform. “We have always felt the need of a guard wage board just as it is in other industries but somehow the progress is slow” he said. He referred to the wage boards prevalent in most industries that ensure that those employed get what they deserve.

Mr Rituraj Sinha informed that the last wage board was established some 30 years back. “The government believes that what is needed is categorisation. “The wage board established at central level can easily be negated at state level. The minimum wages vary from Rs 5,500 per month in the North East to Rs 14,500 in Maharashtra. The glaring difference is primarily because of state laws that takes the call. However, the proper categorisation will ensure some level of harmonisation.

Mr Harkeerat Sahi explained that he saw a number of positives in the notification and said that the changeover would be a gradual process. “It will take time and the development of quality of service that will be available to end users will be a steady process”. He believed that the qualitative and quantitative changes will be related as more talent comes in and has a holistic shift in the image of guards as it exists now. When we talk about upgrading we are talking about overall upgradation. The guard is upgraded, the customer’s expectations are upgraded and what the service provider will be offering will also be upgraded. So eventually it will be upgradation of the total process” he said.

The massive workforce of security guards that will now be referred to as ‘skilled’ and ‘highly skilled’ however will continue to pose a major question for the end users, more specifically the CSOs, who now anticipate that this categorisation will also result in an increase in the cost of service. Capt. SB Tyagi from GAIL asked the question, that possibly bothers all end users: Will paying higher wages also result in a substantial increase in the quality of service?

Since senior management executives invariably fight shy of increasing expenditure on security, the apprehension currently is that it may lead to cutting down staff to ensure that the security budget stays constant.

Major Rajain was certain that with better job prospects better talent will be available for the guarding companies. “As it is, over a period of time the process has already changed and the profile is changing. There is a more educated group willing to be employed as guards” he said. Mr Sinha said that in his company as much as 30 per cent of guards now being recruited are graduates. “And this talent pool will always go up as time goes by” he said. Eventually it all boils down to what the current image of the guard is and what it will henceforth be after he has been categorised as a skilled worker.

Possibly, after this, the guard will cease to be considered as one employed in a job which is lowest in the job preference ladder. His social status will improve and he can now hope to get better emoluments. With the extra cash in hand he may even invest in his self- development by acquiring additional skills.

Ms Manjari Jaruhar, Chair of FICCI’s PSI Committee, queried whether this would mean that at a central government undertaking (CGU) the guard will be getting more, whereas a guard will get paid less if he is working at the same venue but at a different establishment which is not a CGU. This is largely the case, but Mr Mandeep Garewal said that the difference is that at least both will now be referred to as skilled, rather one being treated as unskilled at par with unskilled contract labour in spite of the 160 hours PSAR specified training.

The popular opinion was that guarding companies need to provide a growth path within the company for guards to enable the profession to become an attractive proposition for new talent. This is a primary grouse since most guards who get recruited, stay just as guard for most of their career. Barring some large companies, if other guarding companies also created a growth path with promotions, better emoluments and more elaborate duty assignments, the profession is bound to become more engaging and lucrative.

The end users gathered at the Roundtable were of the opinion that everyone needs different skill levels from guards, so that guards that eventually come to them need to be equipped with the skill level that is required from him at the venue where he is to be deployed.

Capt. Amit Sharma, of Bank of America, said what is needed is to decide what is the level of training that a service provider needs to give the guard before deploying him at a specific venue. This means that for different venues of deployment, the guard needs to have different skill sets. And the end user would expect that the guard deployed at his venue is qualified to do the task he is deployed for.

Major Mandeep Grewal’s counter to this was whether the end user would pay for the special skill set that the guarding company would have to invest in equipping the guard with. He believes that the substantial investment that guarding companies make in equipping the guard with special skills set needs financial resources over and above those that are available for skilling, from the present level of compensation by the end users.

“Also now that the guard is skilled, our expectations would be that he is educated, he should be able to multitask. Not just us, but even multinationals fine tune the guard to end-user needs. But our expectations would be higher now that he is being called a skilled worker. Whereas we should be in a situation where we will not have to work hard to mould him. After all he is already skilled” he said.

Col Ravi Bedi from Maruti Suzuki believed that the current minimum wages that are paid to a security guard are deplorable, it is just not possible for a man and his family to live a decent life on those wages. To train and retain him the end users need to pay higher wages. “In fact, Maruti has set its own standard of wages for security guards, which are higher than the prevalent minimum wage and in addition to that we also provide our guard force with free food and accommodation,” he said.

Col. BK Tyagi, CSO of Punjab National Bank made a very interesting point when he said, that a major reason why he went for outsourced security guards was that they worked out to be more economical, but if the minimum wage for security guards were going to go up and become higher than his own basic employee then his management may think of hiring their own security guards directly.

Col Harendra Bana, Chairman OSAC and Head Security – Pepsico was more specific in his demands from the service provider. “The service provider needs to give us some certification that the guards are equipped with special skill sets and that quality of service would improve so that the CFO can be convinced that spending extra would be beneficial. Col Bana’s contention was largely based on the assumption that cost of guarding manpower would go up substantially after the notification, leading the companies to cut down on strength of guards and look for alternative means of security. And he believes that unless this certification is there, it would be difficult for the CSO to convince the management that increase in security cost is justified.

Mr Rituraj Sinha again clarified on how the government viewed this wage hike. He said that the government had only corrected an anomaly on the categorisation. Earlier the guards who had undergone formal training as per PSAR were incorrectly being categorised as unskilled, therefore the wages being paid to them were also for that incorrect category. It is only now that a guard has been correctly assessed to be performing a skilled function and therefore he will naturally have to be paid higher for the same skilled function that he was performing earlier. It’s only an anomaly that has actually been corrected.

Lt Col Dahiya’s concern about the perception of the corporate management: “The CSO must be assured with demonstrable value of upgraded service by the guarding companies so that he could then justify the higher outflow on manned security to the senior management” he said.

Major Avtar Singh agreed and said that “in such a situation the guard is obviously happier since his wage goes up as does respectability. The guarding company is happy because it bills the client more. But for the end users the problem is how to convince the management that the guard may have got more expensive but he will be of more utility.”

Capt SB Tyagi believes that the end users would be interested in being informed about what additional talents the guard has, now that he is called a skilled worker. He wanted to know how he would benefit from the fact that now he has a ‘skilled’ guard on duty.

Major Manjit Rajain, understanding the issue said that he backed the end users on the subject. “I agree that the industry needs to give the end user something that they can take back to their boards to convince them that the additional budget is justified because the guard is now classified as a skilled worker and could contribute more than what he could earlier. Yes, and we will and must give you that. My assurance to you is such a document will be planned to help you out whether it is done via SECURITY TODAY or FICCI or any such platform. It may take some time, but it will happen” he assured.

Mr Sinha said that the issue was “quality of service, which is dependent on three “T”s.  Talent pool, Training and Testing. The talent pool determines 50 per cent of quality. So the government has now enabled us to attract much better talent which with some training can perform phenomenally better” he said.

Col Rajesh Gulia clarified what he looked for in a guard. ”When we recruit a guard we look for what level of awareness he has. If his basic IQ is high, I’ll take him on. Because his task is not to mimic a statue and just stand there. His job is to anticipate and react accordingly. Eventually we will have to bring up the standard of the guard and look at career progression. After all, he cannot always be just a guard,” he said. ”They have to be a crucial part of the entire workforce” he added, expressing the sentiment backed by both the service providers and end users at the Roundtable. He said that when a guard is being hired and the end user wants to see if he has any specific talents, he asks for it. “Today this query is an exception but eventually it will turn out to be the standard norm where it would be accepted that the skilled man will have some specific talents” he said

Mr Sinha said this is how it happens internationally. In many countries, security personnel initially were called Watchmen but today they are addressed as Security Officers. Col Shakti Sharma added that in Reliance Retail all his guards are referred to as Loss Prevention Associates. “Their overall standard has gone up. That’s what we target here in India.” “This notification does not change much but it is the beginning of a fundamental shift in the industry and will eventually hugely change the quality of manpower in the sector” said Mr. Sinha.

Col Ravi Bedi also believes that standardisation of the training process will help the entire issue. “We need to know  what is the ability of the guards when placed in different set ups,. The service provider needs to work out the  training standards to ensure that before deployment the guards is equipped to handle the challenges that he would face on the site where he is deployed.

Col Shakti Sharma was of the opinion that the end users as well as service providers need to closely work on a solution.”There has to be a healthy handshake between provider and end users. End user has to create a setup where he can mould the guard as per requirement. My challenge however will be the transitional phase on how to convince the management about enhanced bill and static delivery of service. There is no doubt that eventual change will happen as fresh talent comes in. It is also for the end user to spot talent and nurture the guard for bigger responsibilities. Because he has skills, the guard will be willing to go for it”.

The end user segment at the roundtable hoped that quality would improve now and possibly the guard would himself be tempted to invest in training himself if his job prospects improve by doing so. A veteran security industry expert, Major Avtar Singh believes that the stage is certainly set where the guarding companies would have to get together to try and find  common training standards so that a certified skill set is available for the end users and he can decide the level of skill set he requires and the amount he is willing to invest in getting it.

Mr Rituraj Sinha’s request to the end users was that they should not expect overnight changes. “What is being looked at is that someone who is technically qualified but never wanted to be an unskilled guard, will now take up the profession. He may know how to operate a CCTV system but did not wish to be a guard until now. There will be a qualitative change in talent available” he said.

The big question however remained: whether this would eventually mean that it would mean more use of security technology. Mr GB Singh steering the discussion, was confident that this meant better use of technology. “This will certainly compel the industry to head towards ‘mantech’. Effectively it means more use of technology and its integration with trained manpower. That may mean cutting down of manpower but it would also mean that guards would move on towards technology and this means more prospects for the guarding industry to attract talent.

However, Brig. DS Ahlawat, Head of Security for ITC Hotels, who could not physically join the discussions at the Roundtable commented that senior managers normally think that use of technology reduces the manpower requirement. This is only partially true. Technology mostly improves the quality of security cover rather than reduce manpower numbers. Hence security heads will have to convince their superiors that costly equipment too needs manpower, for example X-Ray scanner and CCTV monitoring etc. Since they have to have higher skills even the manpower cost of such operators will be higher compared to a normal security guard.

Mr Sinha said already there is a substantial increase in use of technology by guards and companies are ensuring that apart from the regular training, the guards are familiar with security technology which would not only make them perform their tasks better but would increase their knowledge in the field.

The issue of just who would decide on the standard of training was heavily debated over. Simply because not every guarding company would have the wherewithal to provide this and “how much is enough” would be a question that would never be satisfactorily answered. Training facilities available with government are largely out of bounds for the private sector (with the exception ofa few states). The level of training needed to justify the label of being “skilled” and “ highly skilled’ mandated that there be an accepted standard of training regime that is accepted not just by the man guarding industry but also the end user segment who should be convinced that the guards deployed at his premises were of a category that was claimed.

The popular opinion on this was that this was where the industry bodies and associations need to sit with the major agencies to work out this gradation. And if possible even work out a method wherein a training facility could be decided on, where the requisite level of training could be provided.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that since government utilisation of the private security guards is minimal, so perhaps one could not expect them to open their training facilities or even to decide on the level of training standards. Mr Rituraj Sinha informed that in India the government utilisation of private security stood at a mere 4-6 per cent whereas internationally it was over 26 per cent and steadily rising.

Summing up the lengthy deliberation, Mr GB Singh said that a significant outcome from the conference was that, since the end users wanted a commitment of quality from service provider and the service providers had agreed that it needs to be given, it meant that the two segment were agreeing to cooperate on the issue.

He said that the private security industry could not possibly keep waiting for the government to do things for it since that would kill the prospect of innovation. The industry needs to do this itself. With this categorisation, it’s a win win situation for all concerned. The quality will certainly go up for all stakeholders, but this process would be gradual and the end users would have to cooperate and be patient.

Just like it happened in several countries, the industry associations have to get together to form standards and ensure compliance. These self regulated standards may be much higher than what the government (PSARA) prescribes, but the impact they cause will be huge. There are man guarding agencies like SIS, Peregrine and G4S who are present in advanced  countries and doing tasks that require high level of expertise like airport security. There should be no doubt about their capability to perform as per global standards, however what they need is a compatible ecosystem, which they now hope to have in India. Therefore the future can only be better. It’s not too far in the future when a security guard may well be called a security officer, he said.

The SECURITY TODAY team thanked all the participants in the conference for contributing their valuable time and inputs to this crucial discussion that has a far reaching impact on both the service providers and the end users. The SECURITY TODAY team is confident that the solutions offered will help the private security guard to be looked at with the respect that he deserves.

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