Written by: Benjamin Lim, RICE Media
Photography by author.
Taken from: https://sg.style.yahoo.com/live-condo-security-officer-not-055909281.html

For many security officers, being deployed to condominiums is last on their list of choices for job postings.

On paper, it may sound like a cushy job. A condo is a relatively safe and low-risk property, and all officers are required to do are register incoming vehicles, conduct regular patrols, and monitor CCTV cameras in the guardhouse.

But in fact, the small and cramped guardhouse may just be the safest place in the condo. Outside those four walls, it’s a jungle out there.

Officers are at the beck and call of the hundreds of residents and their properties’managing agents, even if many of the duties that they are expected to fulfil are not officially part of their job scope. They double up as conflict mediators, technicians, electricians and even cleaners at times.

In the wee hours of the night, if there is a blown light bulb or a puddle of dog pee in the lift, security officers are the first responders to such “emergencies”. They are expected to get their hands dirty to solve the problem immediately, and they don’t get a penny more. And if an officer gets electrocuted while fixing a light, it’s just bad luck. He’s not insured for such tasks.

Hence the word “security” in their job title carries little weight. At condos, officers are merely pushovers that can be kicked around by bullies who live in expensive homes and drive flashy cars.

In April , I captured in photos several lapses in the security industry. Officers were caught sleeping at their guard posts in the middle of the night. I also learnt that several of them had been working full-day jobs before performing their security duties.

But I had merely scratched the surface of a problematic industry that has long been beleaguered by low wages and long working hours.

Residential security, which forms the largest segment of the security market, has for years been a hotbed of complaints from both security agencies and their clients.

On top of the list of problems is how security is already fundamentally viewed. To residents and the Management Corporation Strata Title (MCSTs) that manage the condos, a security guard is no more than an odd-job labourer.

“We have developed the idea over decades that a security officer is a jaga. The jaga in the old days was basically a caretaker of the property, but he’s also considered a security guard because he’s tasked to chase away trespassers,” says Raj Joshua Thomas, president of the Security Association of Singapore.

“The industry is no longer the same. We’ve moved on from that already and mindsets have to change. Security is an important profession and we are professionals in this area.”

Unfortunately, this flawed mindset that Thomas refers to is so deeply entrenched that security officers at some condos do not get the respect they deserve. Instead of being a symbol of authority, their uniforms pin a target on them for verbal abuse.


In March, a video of a man railing against his condo ’ s security officer went viral on social media. The officer had simply issued him repeated warning letters about violating parking rules at the condo. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg for so many other cases of mistreatment of security officers that aren ’ t documented. Scolding and shouting at officers are a common affair, while agencies that I speak to share that their employees have even been spat on and slapped by residents and the condo’s management.

Ardi of Spear Security shares how an officer was once tailed by a condo resident when he was on his regular lunch break. The resident took photos of him buying food at a coffee shop, and submitted them to the managing agent as evidence of the officer abandoning his post. At another condo, residents installed their own surveillance cameras inside guard posts to spy on officers.

At condos, the resident is king. They pay exorbitant maintenance fees, effectively making them the security officers’ paymasters. Unsurprisingly, there is the tendency to feel entitled to one’s actions, however unreasonable. Accordingly, security officers are pretty much helpless when residents defy their instructions or hurl abuse at them.

According to Robert Wiener, president of the Association of Certified Security Agencies, most MCSTs and managing agents do not fully back their security teams when disputes arise. They also rarely take action against residents who infringe by-laws unless it’s a very serious case.

The phenomenon of deploying older officers to condos only makes matters worse, and it’s a problem that won’t be solved any time soon.

MCSTs and residents have frequently complained about having to deal with officers who are slow, unresponsive, and perhaps even unfit to do patrols around the condos’ premises. But with the industry already facing a dearth of talent, it’s hard to attract young officers to fill those positions in the first place.


Let’s be honest, a condo isn’t the Istana. With Singapore already the safest country in the world, there ’ s not much in a condo that a security officer is realistically “ protecting ” . Some condos, like the one my parents live in, even employ as many as six to seven guards. It’s unnecessarily excessive when you consider their primary roles.

Security is thus superseded by the other tasks that the officer is also expected to fulfil, like inspecting water pumps, managing facilities bookings, and being the intermediary between the condo’s management and residents.

In other words, a residential security officer performs a front-facing “customer relations” cum estate management job, which isn’t appealing to the younger talent. Thus it’s no surprise that most of them prefer to be on the prowl for shoplifters at departmental stores or join the auxiliary police. Such postings offer them a greater sense of purpose and job satisfaction.

With an estimated shortage of about 20,000 officers today, this leaves agencies with no choice but to continually deploy older – sometimes even elderly – officers to residential properties.

“I’ve had condos who specifically requested for young and fit officers, and I just reply that I cannot take up the contract because there is no way that is going to happen,” says Joshua, who runs the security firm TwinRock Global.

“Any agency that promises to deploy ‘young’ and ‘fit’ officers to condos are just bluffing, and they will not be able to perform. Then the MCSTs will be frustrated and it will be a never-ending cycle.”

He proposes that the current wide-ranging job scope of residential security officers be segregated so that officers can focus solely on their security duties. The enforcement of by-laws and other estate management functions could then be performed by a custodian.

“If MCSTs still insist that officers perform all these duties, then they should pay us more so that we can send our officers for the relevant training. Then it will be fair and make sense. This way, we can also create a profession within a profession and attract people who are interested in doing facilities management and not just being the ‘kickaround’ security officers,” he adds.

Another major problem with the security contracts drawn up by condos is the inclusion of liquidated damages. For instance, a security agency was once forced to pay $27,000 in liquidated damages for a contract worth $25,000. Joshua ’ s firm was also slapped with a $30,000 penalty for missing clocking points while on patrol, but it turns out that the condo ’ s security system was already faulty to begin with.

For the longest time, security officers were one of the lowest earners in the country. Recently introduced schemes by the Security Tripartite Cluster (STC), which comprises NTUC and the two security associations in Singapore, have been long overdue to raise officers’ wages.

The Progressive Wage Model (PWM) is essentially a minimum wage for every level in an officer’s career. Officers will also see their annual basic pay increase by around $300 next year, followed by an annual 3 percent increase. With the removal of the overtime exemption in 2021, it will be illegal to make officers work more than 72 overtime hours in a month. Previously, they would clock on average up to 95 overtime hours a month.

How they were able to perform their duties to the best of their ability when they were so knackered was anybody’s guess, and it’s no wonder that sleeping on the job became a common affair.

But these initiatives are also a double-edged sword. With condos already used to paying for cheaper security contracts, these schemes will only make officers more expensive to hire. An officer who previously earned a basic monthly salary of $600 with little to no overtime pay would now earn a starting wage of $1,100, with increments of $75 in 2019 and 2020. By 2021, he could expect a raise of $150.

Consequently, MCSTs may feel more inclined to engage fewer officers to fulfil the same duties, thus further worsening the manpower shortage. Security agencies that try to lowball the market will also ultimately feel the pinch as they would not be able to afford the ever-increasing salaries of their officers.

Without a total transformation, it’s hard to see how the security industry can remain afloat with outdated operational procedures and mindsets…


READ MORE: https://sg.style.yahoo.com/live-condo-security-officer-not-055909281.html

Written by: Benjamin Lim, RICE Media
Photography by author.
Taken from: https://sg.style.yahoo.com/live-condo-security-officer-not-055909281.html