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By Moneyweb

Moneyweb: Journalists


Car guards: Barriers to entry leave them hungry

‘Standing fees’ payable to placement firms but no receipts.


When Lilian Williams* reports for duty at the shopping centre in Centurion where she works as a car guard, she knows her first obligation is to earn the day’s standing fees.

She tries to catch the eye of each motorist who comes to park in her section of the parking lot, gives them a friendly greeting, and observes what happens around her. She is not entitled to confront any unauthorised person who tries something funny with the vehicle but will report suspicious conduct to the security guards on duty.

When motorists return after shopping and find their vehicle safe and sound, Williams offers to help load parcels into the car and hopes to be paid something for her trouble.

Sometimes she is paid, but often not.

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Williams, a former technician at a well-known firm of medical pathologists, does this six days a week, from 09:00 to 18:00, twelve months a year. In sunshine and in rain, despite howling wind and rolling thunder.

Exploitation

For the “privilege” of being allowed to do this “job” she must cough up R45 every day. She pays in cash but the supervisor who collects the money on behalf of the company that does the placements, never gives her a receipt.

Sometimes she doesn’t even make as much from tips.

Her colleague Andries Jooste, who formerly did quality assurance in the construction industry, has also been working as a car guard for years. He is, however, fed up with the way this vulnerable group is being exploited and is trying to find another job.

Jooste wants the world to know the plight of car guards and help to improve their working conditions.

Their struggle begins long before they must pay their standing fees, he says.

“To be compliant, car guards must complete a security course required for registration with Psira (Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority).”

The course costs between R600 and R700 and registration a further R240 per year, he says.

Risk of arrest

Without the registration certificate a car guard runs the risk of being arrested by the police and being fined R150. “That recently happened at Shoprite in Pretoria North,” he says.

Jooste says standing fees can be anything from R30 to R140 per day.

The car guards never get receipts. Their payments are merely recorded in a notebook.

“They don’t give receipts, because that would establish a paper trail and where there is a paper trail, Sars [the South African Revenue Service] wants its share. Why do you think the president hid his cash in the couch?” asks Williams.

“If you cannot pay your standing fees today, don’t bother to come back tomorrow, or be prepared to pay double then, whether you earn as much per day or not.”

Good day, bad days

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays their tips are few and far between, as is the case in the week before pay day.

“You can bargain on one good day per week, one good week per month and one good month per year,” says Jooste.

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Car guards cannot even think of saving anything, says Williams.

“You stay far from your place of work, because you cannot pay much. Then you pay R80 for transport.

“You first work for standing fees, then for the taxi, and only then for food.”

She says tips at “better” sites like Centurion and Midrand can amount to R120 – R150 per day, but in Pretoria North it can be as little as R60.

No labour rights

People often look down on car guards and some may look dirty, but “if you earn R60 and pay R45 standing fees, you won’t have anything left for Omo:”

Williams has signed a contract with the company that placed her but says the owner refuses to give her a copy.

“It mostly deals with disciplinary measures that may be taken against you,” she says.

The amount payable for standing fees is not specified and can change overnight.

There is no protection for car guards, and they don’t have rights, because they are not employees, says Jooste. If they get injured on duty, it is their own problem.

“The other day someone drove over another guy’s foot. Nobody helped him.”

The car guards can see the impact of the struggling economy in their fee income.

“Since November last year our tip ratio is down by 50 – 60%. We can only afford one decent meal per week. Sometimes you see two people sharing a dry bread with two litres of water. Most car guards suffer from malnutrition.”

Community policing forum

Williams says she does not blame society for the difficult conditions under which car guards work.

“But we cannot accept the way these companies exploit us.”

Jooste believes it will be better if the industry is rid of the placement companies and rather operate under the community policing forums.

“Do you want me to be a successful car guard or a drug dealer?” asks Lilian.

* Not her real name. She asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job.

Study into the plight of car guards

The plight of car guards was addressed in an article published by Marinda Pretorius from the School for Economy at the University of Johannesburg and Derick Blaauw from the School of Economic Science at the North-West University in the Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe (Journal of Humanities) in 2019.

In a study of car guards on the Gauteng West Rand the researchers found that they enjoy little protection that the labour dispensation provides formal workers and are therefore extremely vulnerable.

The researchers found:

  • Besides earning a low income, they are also required to pay a considerable portion of their income to shopping centres or car guard agencies.
  • They earn less than the minimum wage.
  • Their economic situation is therefore extremely vulnerable. This vulnerability is worsened by the uncertainty with regard to future income.
  • Their working conditions expose them to various health risks as they are prone to fluctuating weather conditions, such as severe heat and cold, on a daily basis. If they do not work (because of for example, illness), they earn no income.

They pointed out that the placement agencies or labour brokers take very few risks, “yet receive a significant portion of the tips earned by car guards.”

This article originally appeared on Moneyweb and was republished with permission.
Read the original article here.

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