WHILE every trade demands the job holder to put in the best before being remunerated at the end of a month, other jobs such as that of security guards demand fearlessness first.
Among the duties of security guards include providing cash–in transit and cargo escorts, assets in transit, armed rapid response, providing personal guarding and other security services.
Like maids employed to take care of home chores or shopkeepers engaged to attend to customers, security guards are generally hired to protect property and lives from those seeking to commit criminal activities.
In 2018, the Government revised a minimum wage of not less than K1,000 to be paid as basic salary for general workers such as security guards while maids were entitled to a take-home pay of about K800.
However, five years after the Minimum Wage and Employment Act came into being, some firms and individuals have been flouting the piece of legislation.
The issue of minimum wage has always been emotive and thorny in Zambia.
It has been an emotive issue especially in blue collar jobs as well as in the informal sector where employers disregard labour laws with impunity.
For instance, there are some security guards who are still being paid as low as K500 despite their employers charging between K3,000 and K10,000 per month to a client who wishes to contract a security firm to be offering security services each month to a residential property.
The same can be said of shopkeepers employed in most outlets operating in Zambia whose day of getting a salary is unknown nor the salary falling in the minimum wage bracket.
While some maids in affluent areas such as Kabulonga in Lusaka or Kansenshi in Ndola are paid over K1,000 , the ‘peanuts’ paid to security guards has caused most of them to live miserably and report to work demoralised.
It is common knowledge that like any other employee in any sector if the security guards themselves are demoralised, their effectiveness is compromised too.
Like workers such as those who work in bakeries or shops, the danger inherent in such work is exacerbated by conditions under which most of them are forced to work while being paid wages which are below the basic standard.
An investigation conducted by this author reveals that despite some clients paying between K3,000 to K10,000 per month to have their premises protected, most security guards who provide that protection were poorly paid.
Chris Chiyesu, a resident of Mitengo Township in Ndola says despite him paying K3,500 to a named private security firm, his guard begged for foodstuffs from his wife because the guard allegedly only gets K800 from the employer per month as a salary.
“You guys in the media really need to see how those in authority can harmonize the situation,” Mr Chiyesu said in an interview.
He said equally his wife had also been paying their live-in maid a salary of K1,300 for a month while the one who knocks off parts away with a cool K1,000.
Mr Chiyesu, however, said issues of salaries were personal which could be negotiable depending on various terms and conditions, especially now that the National Pensions Scheme Authority is encouraging those in the informal sector to be contributing towards their pension.
Recently, the Government through the Minister of Labour and Social Security Brenda Tambatamba announced minimum wages for general workers such as security guards, maids garden boys and shop keepers whose new perks effective January 2024 will range between K1,300 and K4,600.
For instance a driver or sales assistant will come January next year be entitled to a gross salary of K2,722.57, an assistant bike assembler K3,137.75 , a qualified bookkeeper K4,638.25, a sales person K3,865.20, a guard K2,313.10, office orderly K2,313.10 and a domestic worker K1,300.
Arising from the Government pronouncement, this writer took time to interview some of the category of workers such as security guards on the Copperbelt whom the piece of legislation is likely to benefit.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one security guard said: “I have guarded highly vulnerable sites like banks, wholesale shops and big companies despite getting a K700 as a salary. I don’t even have a weapon to defend myself with if I were to have to apprehend thieves or get into a confrontation with them.
Other security guards talked to say their pay can barely suffice for rent and food in high density areas such as Kaloko, Nkwazi, Kantolomba and Mackenzie townships in Ndola.
Shadreck Chiapango, aged 42, has worked for a named international private security firm for 12 years now and lives on the fringes of Ndola in Maria Chimona area.
Another security guard who only gave his first name as Robert, found a glimmer of romance in the job, especially with the over K2,000 salary he may be entitled to come January 2024.
He said with the prospect of an increased perk , his work at night will be worth it , bearing in mind that his day to night employment is like an adventure away from thinking about the matrimonial home.
Sharon Chanda of Mckenzie in Ndola was, however, skeptical if her employer will abide by the new minimum wage because her boss normally denied her to rest even on official holidays such as Independence Day.
“There’s no guarantee that my employers will implement the new minimum wages, yes, it sounds too good to be true and I can only dream that it comes into reality, “ she said.
Sandra Kalukangu, a maid from Northrise in Ndola said she was ready to negotiate with her ‘madam’ on the impending new minimum wages because she doesn’t want to lose her job.
Labour expert Daniel Kayesa said while he welcomed the minimum wages for the various categories such as guards, maids and shopkeepers, the issue needed to be handled with sobriety.
“As you may be aware Zambia is currently grappling with high unemployment levels. This therefore means that some employers will engage in a ‘gentleman arrangement’ with their employees to see if they can either get the salary put on the table or part company,” he explained.
Mr Kayesa said while labour laws are clear on what each part is requested to abide by in the code of employment, employers sometimes bend the rules because they know that there are others waiting to get the same jobs if they are to be vacant.
He said with COVID-19 pandemic which disrupted the economy, some employers will not be able to implement the new minimum wages.
“While the Government means well on the minimum wage, in reality it is going to be an issue of take it or leave it. And here I mean all categories of employees from maids to shopkeepers,” he said.
He explained that the new minimum wage will be difficult to implement by those earning less than K5,000 whom he said are the majority in the workforce.
“The Ministry of Labour and Social Security should be commended for ensuring that the minimum wage is in place.
This is notwithstanding that the country is still grappling with high incidents of unemployment,” Mr Kayesa said.
He, however, called on the government to ensure that the Department of
Labour inspectorate was well funded to ensure that violation of locals, especially by foreign companies, was policed.
Mr Kayesa said the onus was also on workers to remain dedicated to their duties and avoid certain bad vices such as stealing or absconding from work even as they fight for better conditions.
However, a senior executive member in the Zambia Federation of Employers who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was skeptical of the new minimum wages.
“You may wish to know that they’re some employers whose salaries are almost equal to that of their employer so it will be interesting to see how someone getting K3000 will sacrifice half his or her salary to pay a maid or garden boy,” he said.
Recently, the government approved a statutory institute to review the minimum wages and conditions of service of employees such as domestic workers, shopkeepers and employees covered under the general order.