For the last several days the private security guards (PSGs) of Jammu & Kashmir Bank have been protesting over the sudden deduction of their wages. They held many protests in Sopore, Ganderbal, Bandipora and Srinagar. These security guards are providing their good services at business units of J&K Bank, and their ATM stations, across Jammu & Kashmir.
These people are not employees of J&K Bank as they are employed by private security companies who are themselves hired by the bank through a tendering process. Until recently a private security company namely Peregrine Guarding was providing security services to J&K Bank. This company is one of the oldest and largest private security companies in India and Singapore which was established in 1995.
Recently the security contract has been given to Datar Security Services Group which is said to be a Delhi based private security company. The company in violation of Minimum Wages Act 1948 has allegedly reduced the wages of these security guards from Rs 7000 to Rs 5500. The company is asking security guards to make an agreement as per their plan and proposal which is completely illegal and unethical. I am unable to understand how they were allotted the contract?
In fact paying Rs 7000 per month by previous company was itself a violation of Minimum Wages Act as security guards are considered to be skilled workers and can’t be paid less than Rs 350 per day as per the notification of J&K Govt issued by Labour & Employment department vide SRO 460 dated 26th October 2017.
Security guards- skilled workers
According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)-Grant Thornton report of 2015, the security services industry is becoming an employment generating machinery, employing seven million people and growing at a rate of 20%. Its value has increased from Rs 40,000 crore in 2014 to Rs 80,000 crore in 2020. It was estimated that the Indian private security industry will generate about 5 million additional jobs by 2020, but COVID 19 pandemic gave a big setback to this industry. The governing mechanism for Private Security Guards (PSGs) is provided under Private Security Agencies (Regulation) Act, 2005 commonly known as PSARA. The act allows every state and UT to formulate different rules for implementation of PSARA. Some states have formulated their own set of rules including Delhi Private Security Agencies (Regulation) Rules, 2007 Haryana Private Security Agencies (Regulation) Rules, 2007 Uttar Pradesh Private Security Agencies (Regulation) Rules, 2007. J&K is yet to formulate the rules after extension of this act to J&K post article 370 abrogation. Ministry of Labour & Employment, Government of India vide its Gazette notification dated 19th January, 2017 re-categorised security industry workers under Minimum Wages Act 1948 (M V Act) and modified the minimum rate of daily pay applicable as follows:
Security guards without arms have been categorised as ‘Skilled Workers’ as against Semi Skilled Workers as per 2008 notification
Security guards with arms and Security Supervisors have been categorised as ‘Highly Skilled Workers’
This notification was indeed a major milestone and a great opportunity for the private security industry in India as higher payout would enable the industry to attract better quality and talent. Instead of considering these security guards as skilled or highly skilled workers and paying them accordingly, the Datar Security Services has ironically decided to reduce the wages from Rs 7000 to Rs 5500 per month which is a violation of the Minimum Wages Act (MV Act 1948). Pertinently Govt of India some years back revised the minimum wages payable to the employees engaged in the employment of ‘Watch & Ward’ sector to Rs. 637 per day. This means that a security guard should be paid Rs 19,110 per month but these hardworking workers were paid mere Rs 7000 which was never even noticed until they came on roads against the new company which further decided to reduce their wages. This is simply a criminal act which the Govt must take strong notice of.
Notification of Labour Ministry
The Ministry of Labour and Employment issued a notification defining Skilled Work as the work which involves skill or competence acquired through experience on the job or through training as an apprentice in a technical or vocational institute and the performance of which calls for initiative and judgment. The Act clearly stipulates a minimum of 160 hours of training to describe someone as trained workers in multiple sections of the Act.
The Private Security Guards (PSGs) are involved in performing various skilled functions like access control using baggage x-ray machine and metal detection equipment. Considering the job description and job specification of the armed and unarmed security personnel and supervisors, both unarmed and armed PSGs and security supervisors satisfy the definition of 'skilled workers'. Therefore, necessary changes should be made in the Central and State Minimum Wages Acts. The Govt of J&K needs to take notice of it.
The armed PSGs and supervisors are now classified as highly-skilled workers. The Ministry of Labour and Employment issued a notification defining "Highly-Skilled Work" as work calling for a high degree of perfection & full competence acquired through intensive technical or professional training or work experience for long years and requires a worker to assume full responsibility for his judgment or decision. The definition has qualified training with the word "intensive" which means that there must exist a difference in the training to be received by a skilled worker and a highly-skilled worker. Presently, there is no difference in the training being received by armed PSGs and supervisors in comparison with the unarmed Private Security Guards (PSGs).
Injustice to 7500 families
Scores of security guards from Srinagar, Ganderbal, Pulwama, Anantnag, Baramulla, Budgam, and Bandipora, assembled at the Press Enclave Srinagar a few days back and registered their protest against the security company which has reduced their wages. Earlier similar protests were held in Sopore, Ganderbal and many other places. Even the ATM machines were not operational for the last few days in Srinagar and some other places. I have been told that around 7500 security guards working at different business units of J&K Bank and ATMs have been directly affected by the arbitrary decision taken by the security company. I am unable to understand how they were given the contract by the bank when they are not following the Minimum Wages Act guidelines ?
According to section 22A of the Minimum Wages Act (M V Act 1948) any employer found in violation of the act can be penalized for five years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 10,000. The Datar Security Services Group is not only violating this act but this is involved in a gross human rights violation as well. There are several Govt departments who are also violating the Min Wages Act. I have already written about it in my previous columns. Very recently the health department has constituted a committee that will look into payment of wages to its consolidated and need-based workers as per Minimum Wages Act. The bank security guards in J&K work in very difficult and stressful situations on very meagre wages and paying them wages in violation of Minimum Wages Act 1948 should be viewed seriously by the Govt and without any delay the J&K Bank must cancel the contract with the private security company or impress upon them to pay all the private security guards not less than Rs 10,500 per month. This is the Minimum Wages rate for skilled workers in J&K as per SRO 460 of 26.10.2017 already discussed above.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman of J&K RTI Movement
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.