Coronavirus: Security firms say they will be hard hit by lockdown in Malaysia

Malaysians are the only nationality, apart from Singaporeans and permanent residents, who can work here as licensed security officers. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Security firms here said they will be hard hit by Malaysia's lockdown, with around 20 to 30 per cent of all security officers hailing from across the border.

Malaysians are the only nationality, apart from Singaporeans and permanent residents, who can work here as licensed security officers.

Firms here have scrambled to persuade their Malaysian employees, most of whom commute daily across the Causeway for work, to stay - and to secure accommodation for them.

President of the Security Association Singapore Raj Joshua Thomas estimates that about 10,000 to 15,000 security officers are Malaysians, who will be cut off from Singapore by the travel ban. This makes up about one-third of the security officer workforce here, he estimated.

Malaysia announced on Monday night (March 16) that it is imposing a movement control order prohibiting Malaysians from leaving the country, as well as foreigners from entering. It will come into force at midnight on Wednesday (March 18).

Since the announcement, security firms have rushed to make arrangements for their Malaysian workforce.

Mr Robert Wiener, president of the Association of Certified Security Agencies, said firms have sent their workers home early to pack their bags and return to Singapore ahead of the midnight deadline.

Businesses are following the Ministry of Manpower's recommendations to house workers with relatives, friends or colleagues, or in commercial properties like dormitories and hotels.

However, Mr Thomas said firms hope the rules can be relaxed to allow workers to temporarily stay in office premises with reasonable conditions. There are strict rules governing the housing of foreign employees, aimed at preventing employers from housing their employees in illegal dormitories.

"We are looking at around $25 to $30 to house a person in a dormitory, and this is high cost - it can be more than what the agency can earn per day, per officer. It doesn't make (fiscal) sense to put them up there," said Mr Thomas.

Despite the high costs, firms are keen to keep their workers instead of hiring new ones, as it takes time to train and license a security officer.

Mr Li Xiaowen, deputy managing director of Apro Asian Protection, said his company is not looking for a "short-term fix" by hiring, as licensing and clearance issues for security officers can be complicated.

"We are working with our customers to seek their understanding... and to help them address the more urgent needs," said Mr Li, who estimates that about 20 per cent of his security officers are from Malaysia.

Almost all commute across the border daily for work, and about two in three said they will take up the company's offer of accommodation in hostels or hotels, he added.

Other companies report that their Malaysian employees are also keen on staying on.

A Certis spokesman said that less than five per cent of its total workforce decided to remain in Malaysia.

The integrated security services firm is also arranging temporary lodging for affected workers, and will provide some basic necessities and laundry services.

But firms are wary that there will still be a shortfall in manpower despite their best efforts.

Mr Thomas said it is "inevitable" that there will be manpower shortages, and security agencies will need to streamline operations to meet security outcomes.

The firms can look at measures such as reducing patrol points to just critical ones, or even to limit the number of entry points in a building to help security officers in screening, he said.

Mr Wiener added that most clients have been understanding about the situation, and have agreed to work out a new arrangement with the security firms without pursuing additional compensation.

While the situation is bound to have a negative impact on firms in terms of costs, he said, it could also result in "a turn in the right direction" and get firms to re-evaluate their labour-intensive processes and look into adopting more smart technology.

Said Mr Thomas: "Security is an essential service, and we really need to focus on ensuring that we do not lapse on this."

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