CLIMBING THE WAGE LADDER

The security guard: $400 pay hike in six months

Mr Wan has spent just over six months at security firm Soverus, but he has a decade's worth of experience in the industry. He now earns $1,500 a month in basic wages, but overtime raises this to $2,600.
Mr Wan has spent just over six months at security firm Soverus, but he has a decade's worth of experience in the industry. He now earns $1,500 a month in basic wages, but overtime raises this to $2,600. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Asked to describe the job of a security guard, one might say " "tedious", perhaps, or even "boring".

But security supervisor Wan Teruna calls it "fast-paced".

The 37-year-old says: "I'm always walking around, clocking in, talking to people."

Mr Wan has spent just over six months at security firm Soverus, but he has a decade's worth of experience in the industry.

He supervises teams of about five guards at locations such as industrial complexes, condominiums and shopping centres.

ON THE MOVE

I'm not the kind of person who can sit at a desk and work a five-day office job. I like to be on the ground.

MR WAN TERUNA, security supervisor.

He works 12-hour shifts six days a week, spending at least eight hours a day on his feet.

Security, the second low-wage industry to receive the Progressive Wage Model, tops all other industries when it comes to working overtime.

The sector has the highest average weekly overtime per worker, said a 2014 report by the Security Tripartite Cluster (STC) which made recommendations to lift guards' wages and structure their career progression.

Security officers clock as much as 95 hours of overtime each month, which exceeds the monthly limit of 72 hours under the Employment Act. Their agencies have to apply for overtime exemptions.

The STC report called this heavy reliance on overtime "deleterious and unsustainable", as it compromises the guards' welfare and puts off newcomers, worsening the industry's dire manpower shortage.

The undeterred, like Mr Wan, are rare. "I'm not the kind of person who can sit at a desk and work a five-day office job," he says. "I like to be on the ground."

He now earns $1,500 a month in basic wages, but overtime raises this to $2,600.

When he first started as a guard 10 years ago, he earned a basic salary of $600 a month, reaching $1,000 after five years.

The same $400 pay hike took him just half a year to achieve after starting at Soverus last November at a basic wage of $1,100.

Mr Wan, who has a one-year-old son, moved over from his previous company because of family benefits such as annual bursaries of between $120 and $180 for workers' children.

It did not hurt, either, that Soverus guards get salary reviews twice a year, during which they are assured of monthly wage increments of at least $25.

The security sector drove wage increases in administrative and support services last year. More than one in three employers in this area gave at least $60 built-in wage increases to staff earning up to $1,100, significantly higher than in other industries.

Soverus has 800 security officers. General manager Kelvin Goh says it has been a "mad rush" sending staff for training before the PWM deadline for the security sector kicks in on Sept 1.

The training, meant to elevate the security officers' skills to match higher wage levels, will cost the firm $600,000. About 60 to 70 per cent will be subsidised by government funding, but this does not include salaries paid to staff while doing training.

Besides mandatory courses, Mr Goh wants staff trained in customer service and counter-terrorism - even if this means paying trainers extra to go and give instruction to guards at their workplace, to save time. He says: "Ten, 15 years ago, this was just a 'jaga' (Malay for 'guard') job where you stared at the wall. Now, clients expect more."

Soverus has also invested in technology to cut down on manual work done by guards. A new system scans the identity cards of visitors into a computer, where previously guards had to manually record details.

Under PWM, Mr Wan has attended a course on how to manage personnel, and is slated for another about the legal framework in security. He hopes to become an operations manager in two years, a role in which he would oversee about 60 officers - and which can command up to $6,000 a month.

Olivia Ho

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'The security guard: $400 pay hike in six months'. Print Edition | Subscribe