RUNNING ON EMPTY
Battle on two fronts takes toll on security guards battered by late salary payments, unpaid medaid benefits
Workers posted at national key points and public hospitals threaten industrial action in a fight that has been going on for years.
Scores of private security guards stationed at government buildings – including public hospitals and national key points such as OR Tambo International Airport – are running on empty owing to regular delayed salary payments.
According to union officials, more than 600 security officers employed by Mafoko Security Patrols and Mabotwane Security, two big players in the private security sector, have revealed they were not paid on the last day of March as stipulated in their contracts.
While some were paid on 3 April, it is understood that by Thursday this week scores had still not received their pay.
“Today is the 13th and they (workers) have not been paid. They have rent, bills [to pay], this thing is affecting our members a lot,” said Celeste Shirindza of the National Security and Unqualified Workers Union (Nasuwu), which organises in the private security sector.
“The company sends a memorandum to workers on the last day of the month advising that salaries will not be paid on time. This is the same story every month,” said Shirindza.
The number of guards affected is believed to be much higher across the sector, although other unions have not confirmed how many of their members are affected.
If they don’t get a salary on time, it affects their transportation to work. They need to be at work on time, [they need] to pay rent, scholar transport, pay their bills.
On Thursday, Shirindza said workers stationed at Charlotte Maxeke and Tembisa hospitals and those posted at the SABC in Pretoria were supposed to be paid on 1 April, but were only paid on 15 April after refusing to go to their posts.
In March, workers employed by Mabotwane Security marched on the Mogale City municipality in Krugersdorp to demand that it cancel the company’s contract and absorb them into its employ. In a memorandum handed to mayor Tyrone Gray they cited issues including late payment of salaries, harassment of staff and unfair labour practices by the company.
Guards speak out
Workers, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, said the late payment of salaries is “a regular occurrence” that has plunged them into debt and dented their credit records.
The workers say delayed payments have been a problem since 2021.
“We have to borrow money elsewhere in order for us to get to work. Every time we raise this, we are told the company has financial problems. We have school fees to pay. [Last year] my daughter’s school report was withheld because I didn’t pay her fees due to this same problem. If you don’t pay scholar transport, your child can’t get to school,” said a guard stationed at OR Tambo Airport. Since the beginning of this year this worker had not been paid on time just once.
“Our contract says we must be paid on the last day of the month. But that hardly happens. We are facing lots of difficulties like people who are not working,” said another guard.
“Now we are in trouble because of bank charges. The company does not help us with that. We are always forced to borrow money to survive even though we are reporting for work every day,” the worker said.
Workers said they are forced to embark on regular go-slows by abandoning their posts in a bid to force company management to address late salary payments.
Daily Maverick understands that security guards at the facilities are paid R4,377 for 17 days and four hours of work. Shirindza said workers are unhappy with this since it does not comply with the minimum sector wage. She said that on 4 March the union applied to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to force Mafoko to comply with the minimum wage agreement but have yet to receive a case number from the commission.
Shirindza said the union receives daily complaints from their members about the late payments, which have taken a toll on their financial stability.
“If they don’t get a salary on time, it affects their transportation to work. They need to be at work on time, [they need] to pay rent, scholar transport, pay their bills. Their accounts [and] policies are lapsing. The issue is very serious. All these things are very serious. They are always paying workers’ salaries late,” she said.
“As a union I have engaged with the company but they didn’t respond. It’s a story of every month and they blame the client, claiming they have not been paid by the client,” she said.
OR Tambo International Airport is administered by the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), which in turn contracts private security companies to provide services at the facility. Acsa did not respond to our question about whether it was aware of the “go-slow” by workers and whether this had affected its operations.
The company was also asked if it had paid its service providers, including Mabotwane and Mafoko, timeously, since it had told its employees that the reason for the late salary payments was a delay from its clients.
Mabotwane and Mafoko security also did not respond when asked to explain the reason for the delays and whether they had made plans to help workers to cover the implications of the late payments.
Unions organising in the sector have been embroiled in an ongoing battle with private security sector companies, including Mafoko and Mabotwane, accusing them of making irregular deductions from workers’ salaries on the pretext of providing healthcare benefits.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Security guards threaten mass national action
In January and February, union members marched to the headquarters of both companies in Pretoria and Johannesburg in protest against their alleged failure to contribute to the health benefits plan as part of a March 2021 National Bargaining Council for the Private Security Sector (NBCPSS) agreement.
The protest is part of a nationwide campaign launched by the unions to call for the arrest of company directors, the cancellation of their government contracts and for them to pay back money they say was deducted from workers’ pay.
On Wednesday the unions took their protest to Northern Cape where they asked premier Zamani Saul “to give the notice to terminate the contracts of these non-compliant companies, with immediate effect”.
“Service providers are repeatedly awarded tenders despite not complying with regulations. There is a need to demand that the public sector stops doing business with non-compliant companies. We call on the Department of Employment and Labour to ensure that non-compliant companies are terminated,” said National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa national security coordinator Frederick Mabasa.
The NBCPSS approved a health insurance benefits scheme for the sector following the signing of a collective bargaining agreement with employers and unions.
Affinity Health was later appointed as administrator for the scheme. The benefits include chronic disease management and medication, doctor consultations, and hospital and casualty benefits, including an HIV and TB management programme.
However, unions have accused security companies of failing to adhere to the agreement, and deducting money from workers’ salaries but failing to provide the healthcare benefits or using service providers other than the one appointed by the NBCPSS.
The matter was reported to the Financial Sector Conduct Authority and the Council for Medical Schemes.
Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa’s private security sector leaves guards feeling unsafe and unprotected
In February the Private Sector Security Provident Fund brought action against Mafoko Security Patrols and two of its directors, Tumelo Prayer Nkabinde and Lebo Taite Nare, in the Gauteng High Court. In papers filed on 17 February the fund asked the court to compel the three respondents to furnish it with outstanding schedules of contribution towards the fund as contemplated by sections under the Pension Funds Act 24 of 1956 for the period 1 January 2021 to 30 November 2022.
The fund also asked the court to compel the respondents “to make payment to the Applicant of all outstanding contributions, including late payment interest”, asking that it be quantified based on the contribution schedules furnished to it as part of the motion.
In its 2021/22 annual report, the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority said there were 586,042 registered active security officers as at the end of March 2022 and 11,540 active registered private security businesses. DM