Whether you see them as a necessity or a nuisance, car guards form part of the major informal economy on a national scale in South Africa.
According to StatsSA, more than two million people are active in the informal economy – excluding the agricultural sector.
Car guarding is an informal industry born out of high unemployment rates, established in areas with high income disparity.
The industry is split into two categories – a completely informal system, where car guards are seemingly just every day people off the street, and a more formalised group, with uniforms and additional equipment.
However, in both cases, the jobs are mostly unregulated.
What car guards earn
Some car owners may pull out of a parking bay thinking “I don’t need to tip the car guard, he gets paid by the mall” – but this is often simply not the case.
In 2009, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act was amended to include car guards under the Sectoral Determination for private security.
According to the amended act, car guards fall within the category ’employees not elsewhere specified’, and for the Pretoria and Johannesburg area the minimum wage was set at R2,519 per month.
In a survey of 144 car guards in the Pretoria region in 2015, this was fairly reflective of what car guards earn, with 37% indicating they earned between R51 and R100 a day, and 34% earning between R101 and R150 a day.
However, this is all but countered by the “bay fee” – the daily cost a car guard must pay to agencies or managers of shopping malls to secure a certain patch.
This fee is between R20 and R50 per day. Additionally, if a car guard is working for an agency, they need to hire their own outfits and equipment, which ranges between R10 and R30 a day.
So while car guards may earn as much as R4,500 a month – the additional costs can potentially pull earnings to well below minimum wage, or even leave some in debt.
The structure of car guard operations in the country has been widely criticised by various groups.
According to senior researchers at the University of Pretoria, policies are needed regarding the responsibilities of car guard agencies and the managers of shopping centres alike, specifically to address the exploitative levies that car guards are expected to pay.
The Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) has called for the formalisation of car guards to protect them from exploitation, and to also ensure they get the appropriate training.
Most car guards cannot afford the training or registrations fees, though.
Some municipalities in the country – such as the City of cape Town – have introduced by-laws to formalise car guarding in the city. This was in the wake of cases where the more informal car guards had become aggressive or even threatening to motorists.
“Policies are needed to clarify matters related to (undocumented) immigrants who work as formal car guards, vis-a-vis the legal requirements of work permits, residency status and registration with PSIRA. To this end, a partnership between the private security sector and the Department of Home Affairs is imperative,” the researchers said.
[Main image: Car Guard by Makiwa]