Maputo — Members of the Mozambican riot police on Wednesday savagely beat protesting security guards, in front of television cameras, outside the human resource department of their employer, the London-based security company Group Four Securicor (G4S).
About a hundred angry off-duty security guards demonstrated outside the offices on Monday morning, claiming that they had suffered unjust deductions from their wages, including their holiday pay.
They demanded payment for overtime, restoration of the amounts deducted from their wages, and payment of the traditional New Year’s bonus (known as “the 13th month”, since it is equivalent to an extra month’s wage). The guards told reporters they decided to hold their demonstration when the G4S management broke a promise to pay the wages in arrears on Tuesday.
“We met last week with the management, the Labour Inspectorate and representatives of the Interior Ministry and it was agreed that we would receive our money on Tuesday”, said one of the protestors.
The demonstrators broke windows, tore up fencing, and set fire to tyres outside the building. The regular police were unable to control the crowd, and so the Rapid Intervention Force (FIR – the Mozambican riot police) was called in.
What followed were scenes of extraordinary brutality, caught on camera by the independent television station, STV. The riot police hurled themselves at the unarmed protestors, and set about beating with their truncheons anyone they caught.
Although the protestors did not resist arrest, the beating continued. Television viewers could clear see how one utterly defenceless man was hurled under the seat of a police vehicle, where the police continued to beat him mercilessly on the legs and buttocks.
By using tear gas, the police succeeded in dispersing the crowd – but they continued to hunt down the protestors, even invading nearby houses to see if any security guards had taken refuge there. One guard was seized as he was talking to an STV journalist.
The police objected to being filmed, although they were in the middle of a very public road. One of them strode up to an STV cameraman and threatened to smash his camera.
Later in the day, the G4S managers admitted that the company did owe the guards money. They blamed the wage cuts on “banking complications”, and claimed that on Wednesday the banks used by the company began to pay out the missing money.
They admitted that the promise to pay the money by Tuesday had been broken, but claimed this was because the procedures used took a long time.
This is far from the first clash between G4S and its Mozambican work force over wage issues, particularly over unpaid overtime. Thus in August 2006, Labour Minister Helena Taipo order the G4S subsidiary Wackenhut to pay the equivalent of 1.36 million US dollars to hundreds of workers for compensation that the company had refused to pay since 1994. For over ten years this multinational organisation, the largest private security company in the world, had refused to pay its workers a cent for the vast amount of overtime they had worked.
A second dispute concerned 300 security guards made redundant when the US embassy refused to renew its contract with Wackenhut. When the managing director of G4S in Mozambique, John Mortimer, refused to obey the Labour Ministry order to give the workers their severance pay, Taipo cancelled his work permit, thus effectively throwing him out of the country.