Published: 05 October 2021
1. Mdm Deputy Speaker, I thank the members for their comments and views and for their strong support for the Bill.
2. Please allow me to address the questions from the members in turn.
3. Dr Wan Rizal and Mr Melvin Yong asked for an overview of the number of abuse and harassment cases reported against security officers in the recent years. Dr Rizal also asked what actions were taken against these offenders.
4. As mentioned in my earlier speech, in the last three years, there was an average of about 150 cases of abuse while security officers were on duty per year. Depending on the facts and circumstances of each case, the action taken against offenders may range from stern warnings to court prosecutions.
5. Let me now address members’ questions on the new offences.
6. Mr Louis Ng asked what counts as the execution and discharge of a security officer’s duty. This refers to the functions of a security officer as defined in section 13 of the PSIA as he has alluded to, and includes broad roles such as patrolling or guarding another person’s property, or to check individuals seeking entry to any place. This could extend to certain other functions including SMM functions, such as denying entry to persons who do not wear masks.
7. Mr Desmond Choo asked whether the new section 17C PSIA applies to abuse committed while a security officer is off duty, and whether MHA will consider including other harassment activities covered by POHA section 3, such as doxxing, or section 5 in the new PSIA offences.
8. The introduction of offences in the PSIA expressly provides targeted protection for security officers against common types of abuse and harassment faced by security officers at the work. If a security officer is abused while off duty, but the abuse, is in relation to the execution of the officer’s duties under section 13 of the PSIA, then an offence under the new section 17C PSIA may be made out. The key here is that the abuse or harassment must be in relation to the work or the duty that he performs. I want to assure Mr Desmond Choo that we will continue to monitor the ground situation to ensure that security officers get adequate protection.
9. Mr Louis Ng also asked why the new section 17C PSIA offence allows the accused to prove that he had no reason to believe that his actions would be perceived by the target person. Mr Ng noted that this is not a defence for a section 3 POHA offence. Mr Ang Wei Neng raised concerns about shifting the burden of proof, and suggested that, for a similar offence, section 17C PSIA may accord security officers with a higher level of protection than public servants.
10. To clarify, stipulating defences does not shift the burden of proof to the accused. The prosecution still needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an offence has been committed. The defences make it clear that the accused may be absolved under certain specific circumstances. That said, it is not the case that the accused can simply claim that he or she did not believe that his or her actions would be perceived by the target person. Rather, the defence under the new section 17C PSIA requires that the accused to prove, on balance of probabilities, that he did not know and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the communication made, would be heard, seen or otherwise perceived by the target person. An example of this scenario can be found in illustration (b) of section 3 of POHA:
X writes a letter containing threatening words towards Y intending to send the letter to person Y to cause him alarm. X decides not to send the letter and throws it away. Person Y finds the letter and is alarmed. X is not guilty of an offence as he had no reason to believe that the letter would be seen by Y.
11. The proposed section 17C PSIA is not intended to mirror POHA completely, and takes into consideration the nature of the security officers’ work. Nevertheless, the defences available for a section 17C PSIA offence are similarly available for offences against public servants, under section 6 of POHA. Hence there is no higher protection as suggested. Although a similar defence is not present in section 3 POHA, it is also clear from illustration (b) that I read, of that section that if an accused had no reason to believe that an offensive communication would be perceived by the target person, the offence under that section would not be made out.
12. Mr Darryl David asked why and how section 17C PSIA differentiates itself from section 6 POHA for security officers who are essentially carrying out the same job functions. He asked if this would lead to differentiated level of protection of security officers.
13. To clarify, some security officers are already considered public service workers under POHA, such as those deployed at public healthcare institutions, step-down care institutions, or educational institutions. Security officers who are executing duties in the capacity of public service workers are excluded from the new Section 17C PSIA offence, to avoid the overlap with section 6 POHA. This group of SOs continue to be accorded protection under POHA, with the same penalties as the new Section 17C PSIA harassment offence.
14. Mr Ang asked if police reports must be made before the Police investigates into the new PSIA offences, and whether the Police would be more inclined to charge persons for the new section 17C PSIA offence. Yes, reports should be lodged in such cases. I would like to emphasise that the Police have treated all cases and allegations of harassment and abuse against security officers equally and seriously, and will continue to do so.
15. Ms Joan Pereira suggested that offenders should be made to serve community service and undergo mandatory social education programmes. The Criminal Procedure Code already allows for the courts to issue community orders for suitable cases. Such community orders include mandatory treatment orders for psychiatric conditions, and community service orders, which can also be combined with short detention orders.
Further Comments Relating to Security Officers
16. Mr Melvin Yong and Mr Yip asked if ex-offenders are automatically disqualified and how many are employed in the security industry.
Eligibility for Security Officer Licences
17. Given that the security officers are placed in a position of trust, the Police need to ensure that they are competent, and suitable for the roles they are licensed to perform. Depending on the merits of each application, the Police may and have granted licences under suitable conditions, including to ex-offenders. Between 2017 and 2021, the Police received an average of 300 security officer licence application appeals per year including from ex-offenders, of which about a fifth of them were successful. We will continue to look at each application on their merits and to ensure that eligible applicants including ex-offenders can continue to join this industry.
Use of Body Worn Cameras
18. Mr Yip Hon Weng, Joan Pereira, Mr Melvin Yong and Dr Wan Rizal asked about and gave suggestions on the use of body worn cameras. These are issues that should be discussed by the service buyer and service provider, taking into account various factors such as the needs of the buyer, the deployment locations, as well as the costs involved. We have in MHA strongly encouraged the industry to make use of technology, like the body worn camera, to facilitate better onsite management or investigation into allegations of abuse. And the industry have responded, as we have seen an increasing trend of security agencies deploying body worn cameras for their security operations. Between 2019 and 2021, the Police approved 43 requests made by 15 licensed security agencies for the use of body worn cameras at various deployment sites for their security officers. As part of the Security Industry Transformation Map (ITM) efforts to uplift the industry, government agencies such as ESG have supported security agencies in the adoption of such relevant technologies.
Professionalising the Industry and Improving Work Conditions
19. Mr Yong and Ms Mariam Jaafar asked what is being done to further improve work conditions and make the private security sector more attractive. This bill is just one of the initiatives under the security ITM to help transform and raise standards, improve wages and also improve the work conditions and environment for security officers. The government has and will continue to work closely with tripartite partners through the Security Tripartite Cluster to uplift wages and skills upgrading of our security officers. For example, on wages, the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) has improved wages for about 40,000 security officers. Real median monthly gross wages for security officers grew cumulatively by 36% from 2014 to 2019, outstripping the 21% growth for workers in general.
20. Ms Sylvia, Mr Yip Hon Weng, Mr Darryl David and Dr Wan Rizal also asked about skills upgrading and training for security officers, it is indeed an important area and on this area tripartite partners have introduced courses to train security officers in public management, such as customer orientation, problem solving and collaboration skills, as well as identifying relevant skills to combat evolving security threats and including terrorism threats. Security agencies that need help in redesigning jobs, incorporating technology, and upskilling their officers can also leverage WSG’s Job Redesign Reskilling Programme for Security Officers.
21. Regarding work conditions, Dr Wan Rizal also asked if the Ministry will introduce any limit to security officers’ working hours, including mandated off days and hours. I would like to assure Dr Rizal that these are currently covered under the Employment Act. Tripartite partners have also taken concrete steps to address security officers’ long working hours. The most recent is the removal of overtime exemption in January 2021. Previously with the exemption, security officers could work up to 95 hours of overtime per month and now, overtime is capped at 72 hours per month. So the cap on overtime hours will hopefully improve the working conditions and increase attractiveness into the demanding industry.
22. On Mr David and Mr Raj Joshua Thomas’ suggestions for rest areas for security officers, we are unable to mandate minimum rest areas due to practical infrastructure constraints of certain premises, but we have encouraged buyers of outsourced services to set up proper rest areas for outsourced workers at their premises through the Workcare Grant. MHA and our tripartite partners will continue to monitor the ground situation to ensure that our security officers’ welfare are not neglected, and will not hesitate to intervene where necessary.
23. On Mr Fahmi’s further query on the adoption of outcome-based contracting (OBC) to make security officers’ work safer and more effective, MHA has shared in our response to a Parliamentary Question in July that the Government has already taken the lead in the adoption of OBC. MHA will continue to work closely with industry partners in the engagement and training of buyers on OBC, to push for OBC adoption in both the public as well as the private sectors.
Communications on New Offences and Channels to Report Abuse
24. Dr Wan Rizal and Mr Yong asked about protocols or whistleblowing channels for security officers to report incidents of abuse or harassment. There are few ways to do so. One, affected personnel can report all legitimate cases of abuse and harassment to the Police. Two, a one-stop email helpline launched by the Security Industry Council, where cases would be attended to by the Union of Security Employees (USE). As Mr Abdul Samad shared, affected officers can also approach the USE Mediation Centre directly for help. And soon, also mentioned by Mr Desmond Choo, Mr Thomas, and Mr Abdul Samad, through a new mobile application by USE.
25. There is no need to set up a new unit under the Police Licensing and Regulatory Department to manage complaints on misconduct of security officers, as suggested by Mr Ang at this moment. Members of public can continue to lodge such reports with the Police directly.
26. Mr Ang and Mr Fahmi asked what will be done to ensure that security officers and members of the public are aware of the new legislative amendments. In coming up with the Bill, the Ministry has consulted and worked closely with the industry and Union on public campaigns to reinforce the anti-abuse message and we will continue to amplify this message.
27. Last, I echo the point made by Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Desmond Choo, Ms Joan Pereira, Mr Yip, Mr Thomas, and Mr Abdul Samad and all the other members, that we, as members of the public, should equally play our parts in exercising patience and respecting our security officers who are simply doing their jobs in keeping Singapore safe and secure.
Updating Regulatory Regime for Security Services
28. Finally, I will address questions relating to the changes to the regulatory regime for security services. Ms Jaafar raised potential concerns about industry-led accreditation for security consultants. To clarify, we are removing persons who only provide security consultancy services from regulation under the PSIA. Persons who provide any other services that fall under Section 18 of the PSIA would still have to be licensed.
29. Since the launch of the industry-led Security Consultants Accreditation Programme (SCAP), the SCAP Board developed a code of ethics to guide the way security consultants interact with clients, and a continuous professional development framework that consists courses in areas such as OBC and contingency planning, to ensure that accredited security consultants have the updated competencies required.
30. As affirmed by Mr Thomas, there is a high bar for admission into SCAP. The SPF Centre for Protective Security guides the SCAP Board in administering these admission assessments to ensure that all accredited consultants have sufficient level of experience and competency in security consultancy work. MHA and SPF will continue to work closely with the security associations to maintain oversight of standards in the security consultancy industry.
31. Ms Jaafar had other queries on how to encourage the industry to go for accreditation and what will be done to educate service buyers to fairly assess security service providers who have accredited security consultants. We will be doing this through outcome-based contracting, where industry partners need to advocate that the use of technology and job redesign is to improve the overall effectiveness and professionalism of the security sector. In gist, the Ministry is empowering the industry to take charge in developing security consultancy as a professional discipline.
32. Madam Deputy Speaker, the Bill is an important piece of legislation that will provide much needed protection for our security officers, and update the regulatory regime for security services in the face of an evolving security industry.
33. I would like to thank the security industry associations, the Union of Security Employees, and Government agencies for working with us closely on this bill and the Security ITM initiatives to professionalise and transform the private security industry.
34. Once again, I thank Members for their overwhelming support for this Bill. Our security officers play an important role in keeping us safe and our premises secured. They deserve not just protection from harassment, alarm or distress. They deserve our respect. We can all start by acknowledging our security officers, by their names today, when we see them in our residences or our workplaces, and thanking them for doing what they do.
35. Madam, I beg to move.