This article is supported by SVP Cities of India Fellowship
“I have aged parents to take care of, and two younger brothers to educate. That’s one of the reasons I am doing my MBA.” After completing 12th standard from a government school in Bongaigaon district, Assam, 23-year-old Merajul Hoque has come a long way, quite literally (around 2700 kms, in case you are wondering). An employee of the multinational security company G4S, he has been working as a security guard on deputation to a family in Bengaluru for over three years.
While the term chowkidar has become popular for all the wrong reasons these past few months, chowkidars aka watchmen or security guards have been an integral part of India’s informal sector for long.
To Bengaluru at 18
The third of five brothers, Hoque has been supporting his family for over a decade. It started after Hoque’s two elder brothers moved out of home post-marriage, leaving their parents and three younger brothers to fend for themselves. Hoque’s father, a farmer, did not earn enough to support the family.
Hoque, then in his mid-teens, started running a tea stall while still attending school. After completing 12th standard, he started looking for a job outside the state that would enable him to send some money back home.
Alphonse David, General Manager at Vex India Securitas, a Bengaluru-based company that employs around 2600 guards, says that drought is a major reason people migrate to metros in search of employment, especially in the security sector. Migrants working in the sector are largely from the North East and Odisha, neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and also from rural Karnataka.
In 2014, Hoque opted to come to Bengaluru since a friend from his hometown was already working here. Soon, Hoque too, with the help of some friends, joined G4S, with which he has remained hence.
Minimum wages not for all
In the past couple of decades, the security guard sector has slowly started to get a semblance of formality with respect to wages and benefits. Security companies are governed by the ‘Private Security Agencies (Regulation) Act, 2005’, which mandates them to pay minimum wages to guards.
As per a 2016 Karnataka government notification on minimum wages, the basic salary of security guards in Bengaluru should be Rs 10,350. This is for 8 hours of work, 26 days a month. Additionally, they should be paid a Variable Dearness Allowance (VDA) of Rs 1785 per month. That is, the minimum wage of a security guard in Bengaluru now should not be less than Rs 12,135.
Additionally, guards are eligible for PF and ESI, along with benefits like overtime pay, holidays, leave, bonus etc.
Hoque had started with a monthly salary of Rs 10,500 in 2014. Today, with about five years of work experience, he draws around Rs 18,000 per month; he’s also eligible for PF and ESI. He stays with five friends in a small house, on rent. His rent, food and other personal expenses come to only around Rs 5000 per month. Barring a small amount for miscellaneous expenses, he sends the rest to his family. He has no personal savings or insurance.
But data from job portals show that a large section of guards in the city earn much lesser. According to payscale.com, a compensation tracking platform, the average monthly salary for a security guard in Bengaluru, as of last December, was Rs 13,558. Salary here implies gross salary before tax/deductions, but does not include any benefit/bonus from the company. Overall, salaries ranged between Rs 9800 and Rs 21,000. This implies that many guards do not earn the minimum wage.
As per the job portal Indeed.co.in, the average salary for a guard in Bengaluru is Rs 12,513 per month, only slightly above the minimum wage of Rs 12,135.
A cursory search on QuikrJobs threw up 219 active jobs for security guards in Bengaluru. The offered salary ranged between Rs 8000 and Rs 18,000 for guards with 0-3 years work experience. In case of jobs that offered free food and accommodation especially, the salary could be lower than the minimum wage. Case in point is a recent post that offered Rs 8000-10,000 for a guard with 0-2 years experience.
Sheethal Kumar, Secretary of the Karnataka Security Services Association (KSSA), an association of private security firms, says that not paying the basic salary of Rs 10,350 to a guard is illegal in any case.
David says, “We and around 250 other major security companies in Bengaluru comply with the legal requirements on wages. In fact, our employees’ ESI/PF number often aids in conducting reference checks on them when they move from one company to another.” However, David admits that some clients are unwilling to pay the minimum wage, which is a major reason for attrition in the industry.
Sheethal Kumar, who is also the MD of SRF Detective and Security Services, says that the job of a security guard is nearly the last option for most migrants who come to Bengaluru. As a result, many untrained people are employed as guards, especially by small or fly-by-night operators. These operators often cut costs and pay the guards poorly while also making them work long hours, he adds.
Such operators in fact form a significant part of the industry. As per a 2017 FICCI-PwC report, around 60 percent of the security service providers in India are in the unorganised sector. This has made the sector difficult to monitor, and open to employee-unfriendly practises, says the report. Hence it isn’t surprising that many security guards in the city don’t get their due, unlike guards like Hoque who earn better in high-profile companies.
Security sector to grow rapidly
The FICCI-PwC report says that the security industry is among the largest employers in India. It employs around 8.5 million people in various capacities, and has the potential to employ 3 million more by 2020.
As per a New Indian Express article this March, Bengaluru alone has “more than 3.5 lakh security guards working in over 600 security outsourcing agencies”. This is not surprising, given the number of MNC offices, apartment complexes, and industries like aviation and manufacturing in Bengaluru. And then there are educational institutions, hospitals, hostels, malls, hotels and high net-worth individuals who feel the need for 24/7 security.
Women too have started working in this industry, especially in retail outlets, airports etc where female visitors have to be frisked. David says that the salaries of women guards in his company are on par with that of men. However, the current strength of women guards in the sector is negligible.
The relationship between a security guard and the people he guards is primarily based on trust. Security guards are also the first ones in the line of fire. David says, “We work 24/7/365, and have to be careful since we are often the first point of contact for most people including employees and visitors. We are also the first responders in case of fire or similar problems.”
However, security guards across the country have reported being unhappy with their work conditions. As per a 2015 study from Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow, security guards suffer from high stress, work long hours, and are dissatisfied with their job and salary. The study, among 180 guards in Lucknow, identified many issues they faced, such as erratic meal patterns, discomfort due to change in seasons, and difficulty working shifts and guarding large areas. They also reported health problems like physical fatigue, heart palpitations and skin problems.
A recent article in Scroll also finds that security guards across the country get low wages, get little sleep due to 12-hour shifts and lack of holidays, and suffer from health problems. They have no job security, especially if on contract. The two Bengaluru security guards profiled in that article, work 12-hour shifts. But one of them is paid just Rs 9000, and the other Rs 11,000 – that is, below the minimum wage.
Security guards are also often expected to do more than just guard the premises. Sheetal Kumar says, “A majority of guards are not college-educated, and have learnt just enough English or Kannada to get by. But they are asked to do tasks that require some training or education – such as answering calls – so that the employer can cut costs in hiring trained resources. The guard is often blamed when something goes wrong.”
Some jobs for security guards advertised on Quikr mention that the role includes that of a gardener, handyman or dog-walker too. Others state the person also has to fulfil the role of a sales person or a front office assistant. This sort of expectation is more the norm than exception, especially if only one guard is stationed in a place. A security guard at a small office complex in the city, says on condition of anonymity, that he has been asked to clean the mud coming out of the adjacent drain during rains.
Hoque though says that the family he works for, treats him with respect. He has no complaints about the miscellaneous work he is asked to do there. “I like doing small things for the family when asked to,” he says.
For example, he was part of a group of over 30 volunteers who procured and sent relief supplies to Kodagu and Kerala last year following the floods there. The month-long effort was coordinated by Divya R, at whose house he is stationed as a guard.
Climbing the ladder
“Based on how smart and capable one is, a person can grow in the organisation (or industry) from being a security guard to a lead/head security guard, a site supervisor or a field officer. Some people have stayed in the industry and moved up the career path over the years.” says David.
The NSDC handbook says that many can have a good career path if they stay on in the industry. The industry also offers good options to ex-servicemen would have already been trained in service.
However, another NSDC report says that security guards have low aspirations because of poor working conditions, lack of social security benefits, and extended working hours. But this is expected to change, as the industry is gradually transitioning from a predominantly informal set up to a formal one. Some companies like Vex Securities also offer training to their guards now.
As for Hoque, he has been giving some thought to his future. After coming to Bengaluru, he completed his graduation through a distance learning course from GITAM University. He is now pursuing a six-semester MBA course from the same university, and wants to specialise in marketing.
“During his graduation, he would share his marks with us each time he cleared a set of papers. When we asked him about his future plans, he showed interest in studying further. We encouraged him to apply for the MBA course,” says Divya.
During his last visit to Assam, Hoque also got engaged to a girl of his choice. He plans to get married in a year or so, and wishes to bring his bride to Bengaluru. He will have to set up a house and provide for her. His expenses are going to go up considerably.
What the future holds
Hoque is however hopeful that, with a few more years of experience in his current role, he can either move to a mid-level position in a security agency or look for a sales and marketing job in the city. He will have to be proficient in spoken and written English for this. But then, that does not deter him from looking forward to a future where he can earn more and live a more comfortable life.
Hoque’s example shows that the security guard sector does offer some opportunities for salary and career growth. But, as the sector is mostly unregulated, many guards are bogged down by poor wages and working conditions, without hopes for a better life.
This article is supported by SVP Cities of India Fellowship. This is the second part of a series on livelihoods in Bengaluru