Security authority swoops on car guards

Nine Zimbabwean car guards were sent to South African deportation facility Lindela on Tuesday and another three were arrested in a swoop on an illegal car-guarding business in Johannesburg by the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Psira).

Twenty businesses have come under Psira’s scrutiny over the past 40 days as it targets unregistered car-guarding businesses in Gauteng. The operation has been carried out jointly with the South African Police Service and the Department of Home Affairs.

The high proportion of immigrants arrested on Tuesday throws into the spotlight immigrants’ uneasy relationship with the private security industry. According to Lawyers for Human Rights, in the early 2000s, the private security industry reportedly employed 20% of South Africa’s economically active refugees, yet a recent high court ruling upheld Psira’s right to exclude recognised refugees from private security operations.

A refugee can apply to become a security officer, but Psira evaluates these applications on a case-by-case basis, requiring applicants to prove that they have no criminal record, explained Stefan Badenhorst, who manages Psira’s law-enforcement division.

Unable to find jobs in the formal security industry, immigrants can more easily find a foothold in the less regulated segments of security, such as car guarding.

A 2003 study of 53 car guards along two main roads in Cape Town found that two-thirds of the guards were foreigners and 35 of them were self-reported refugees or asylum seekers, according to researcher Johnny Steinberg.

Nearly 50% were from the Democratic Republic of Congo, with fewer numbers of guards from the Congo, Angola and Cameroon.

Forty percent of the foreigners and none of the South Africans had tertiary degrees. Only 3% of the foreigners had only primary education or less, compared with almost half of the South African car guards.

Other studies suggested that the Congolese were also more punctual arriving at work than other groups of guards were, leading Steinberg to write: “The image conjured is both tragic and strangely out of joint: a group of middle-class people bringing their earnest middle-class values of hard work and careful financial planning to the task of guarding cars.”

Illegal immigrants

The Department of Home Affairs has been involved in Psira’s crackdown on illegal car-guarding companies because its investigations revealed that many businesses employ illegal immigrants, said Badenhorst.

He explained that the investigations were part of the normal work Psira does to identify the many illegal security companies that are not registered as service providers with the authority.

Psira can fine unregistered companies up to R10 000 or withdraw or suspend their registration for hiring illegal immigrants. If convicted on criminal charges, illegal security providers can face five years’ imprisonment for a first offence and 10 years for a second offence.

Clients are liable for up to 24 months’ imprisonment for not verifying whether their security provider is legal, said Badenhorst, but this rarely happens unless a client fails to terminate a contract after being warned by Psira.

South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union sector coordinator Jackson Simon said the union brought the problem of illegal immigrants in the security industry to Psira’s attention during last year’s security-guard strike.

He said that companies do not comply with labour legislation when employing foreigners, such as the sectoral determination on minimum wages.

Some car-guard companies are formal businesses and well organised, especially at shopping centres, said Badenhorst, yet there are also many who operate on a more informal basis. These companies tend not to have formal contracts with their employees, meaning that guards are not protected by labour legislation.

He said that car guards typically earn between R50 and R200 a day, compared with the minimum R1 600 per month earned by a grade-E guard.

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