SINGAPORE, Jan 14 — When Tang, not his real name, a 67-year-old security guard, refused to allow a parent to enter a school with her child’s forgotten homework, the parent shouted at him and called him “dumb”.

It was the school's policy that parents were not allowed to enter the grounds with their child’s forgotten items during class time, he added.

Tang, who requested anonymity and still works at the school in Woodlands, said: “(The parent) scolded me. She said she had the right to go into the school whenever she wanted to because she had paid for the school fees.”

The plight faced by security guards — who often work long hours for relatively low pay and little recognition from those they serve — was cast into the spotlight after a video of a Bentley car inching forward against a security officer outside Red Swastika School in Bedok North went viral earlier this week.

The 61-year-old male driver was arrested for the rash act, which caused the 62-year-old male security guard to sustain minor injuries, the police said.

Last month, a survey on the welfare of private security officers conducted by the Union of Security Employees (USE) found that about two in five — or 39 per cent — officers reported having faced abuse at work. The majority of abuse reported was verbal.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the union said that it has received 46 reports via the mobile application it launched last month for security officers to report abuse and work-related grievances.

The reports received via the app, which has been downloaded about 900 times to date, have been routed to the union’s mediation service for follow-up.

Its executive secretary Steve Tan said that out of 511 cases the union handled last year, 15 per cent involved “workplace conflict”, which includes abuses.

It does not have a breakdown of the proportion of abuse cases.

Tan added that verbal abuse is largely under-reported because it is the case of one party’s word against another, with most instances difficult to substantiate in a complaint.

“Even if, let’s say, it is proven that it was verbal abuse, the remedy is usually very limited. So the guy (the perpetrator) will be warned and that’s about it,” he said. 

Security guards approached by TODAY said that the incident outside Red Swastika School did not surprise them because they face various forms of abuse on the job.

They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Security companies said that the abuse faced by these officers is a matter of concern, especially since many in the profession are older workers.

Argumentative parents

Security guards stationed in schools said that the biggest challenge they face is dealing with parents. They all requested anonymity.

Siva, not his real name, a former security guard of a school in Punggol who now works at a condominium, recalled an incident several years ago.

It was the day the students collected the results for a national examination and he was berated by a parent for not allowing him to park in the school compound.

“He die die wanted to park in the school but we could not let (him) because that’s the instruction (that we were given). He got very angry. He wanted to bang me (with his car). But I just brought down the barrier. No need to argue.”

Students, too, occasionally make the job difficult for security personnel.

Zul, not his real name, now working at an independent school, recalled an incident during an examination period when a student refused to leave by the main gate, which was required by the school for attendance-taking purposes.

The exchange with the student grew so protracted until Zul’s superviser had to get to the scene to handle the matter. By then, the student’s father had also turned up and started raising his voice.

The security officer, in his mid-30s, said that facing verbally abusive and disrespectful parents has become part and parcel of the job for him.

“But towards my elder or senior colleagues, the parents behave even more ostentatiously as (the older workers) look easy to makan (bully),” he said in a mix of English and Malay.

Lim, 67, a security officer who has been working at different public schools for six years, has witnessed many occasions when parents simply ignored the security guards or treat them with disrespect.

On dealing with defiant parents, the guard said: “Many look down on us. They will not listen to us. If we encounter a problem, (we) always seek the operation manager's help.”

Not just at schools

Security guards stationed in malls and condominiums told TODAY that they suffer abuse as well, especially when they try to enforce rules set by the Government or building management.

This was the case for Rahmat Musa, 61, a former security guard who worked at a mall in the Central Business District for 12 years.

On one occasion during the Covid-19 pandemic, he was called “useless” and “stupid” for refusing entry to a shopper who claimed that he did not have his phone or TraceTogether contact-tracing token with him.

“When they are not happy, they scold us because they only see us at the door. They cannot scold the mall management, right? So we suffer,” he told TODAY in Malay.

Rahmat, who retired last month, added that in the 12 years he worked as a security guard, he had been chastised and called disparaging names many times but never made any report of these incidents.

While Rahmat had suffered only verbal abuse, others such as 57-year-old Kuek Siew Tiang had to face physical abuse. Last November, Kuek had to disperse a gathering of five at a condominium in Tanjong Pagar where she works.

The group, which had been given several reminders to disperse, started harassing Kuek by taunting her and putting their phone cameras near her face after she took a photo of them to report to the condominium management.

The group later confronted her and her colleague at the guard post and tried to snatch her phone, which led to her injuring her arm.

“I was also a guard at a nightclub area before, so I had dealt with many of such (aggressive behaviour). But never have people retaliated physically against me before like this,” she added.

What security companies say

Security firms interviewed by TODAY said that security officers have long faced abuse, especially older ones.

Kelvin Goh, managing director of Soverus Security, has received reports of five to eight cases of abuse on average each year, most of them made by officers working in condominiums.

The guards face constant verbal criticism not just from the residents they serve, but those who manage the condominiums as well, Goh said.

“They shout at the officers for something as silly as otters entering the premises.”

Anecdotally, older security guards are also more prone to abuse compared to younger ones, he added, especially those who are less tech-savvy and take a longer time to complete a task.

Goh said that investigations are done every time a complaint is made by a security officer.

The company will review evidence such as closed-circuit television camera and body-worn camera footage, wherever possible. Findings of the investigations will also be presented to the client so that such abuse can be prevented in the future.

Benjamin Chan, managing director of First Secure Security, which hired Kuek, told TODAY that her case was the first one involving physical abuse that the company had to handle.

“Usually, we try to de-escalate and mitigate issues because we don’t want any harm done to our officers. So we always try to address the matters and calm things down,” Chan said, adding that the company would deploy one of its executives or command centre personnel if things go beyond the ground officers’ control.

Such incidents occur typically once “every three to six months”, he added.

A police report was filed over Kuek's case. TODAY has sought comment from the police.

Khairul Annuar Rudy Shahril, managing director of Aardvark Security Services, said that de-escalation is also the main approach deployed by his security officers in handling conflicts on the ground.

He added that none of the company’s staff members has ever reported any physical abuse, although he had a case of a middle-aged female officer who eventually resigned after being intimidated by a drunk resident in the middle of the night.

Khairul acknowledged that verbal abuse occurs frequently and he expects his staff members to handle such incidents with professionalism.

However, he draws a clear line when it comes to physical abuse, so he cautions his officers by saying that should they face a dangerous situation, “don’t be a hero”.

“We always tell our officers, your life comes first. Your job is to record and report, not to jump into the line of fire.” ― TODAY