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Labour Day special: Unsung Heroes, Our Security Guards

Hong Kong is fortunate to have many movers and shakers who make our city a better place to live. As we celebrated Labour Day on 1 May, we thought about writing about the workers to don't have the luxury of a day off on Labour Day and end up contributing significantly to our quality of life in HK. In this article, LocalHood Website Volunteer, Victoria Wong celebrates the unsung heroes of our neighborhoods who work diligently to make our buildings safe and security—our security guards.


Security guards play a vital role in maintaining the safety of our living spaces, allowing us to feel safe in our homes and sleep soundly at night. While the pandemic introduced hybrid or remote working options for some fortunate individuals, security guards and other frontline "blue-collar" workers did not have the luxury of such choices and had to continue to report to work.


A 2019 report by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions revealed that security guards endure the longest working hours among frontline workers in Hong Kong, and are often overlooked. Despite their crucial role, security guard positions are commonly associated with retirees and older individuals, sometimes seen as a "thankless job” . They typically work 12-hour shifts, either during the day or overnight.

A female security guard patiently waits for vehicles going in and out of the building’s parking lot. Source: South China Morning Post 


We spoke to Mrs. Wong, who started her role as a security guard at a residential estate in Tseung Kwan O two years ago. Previously a retail administrative worker at a global jewelry chain for 30 years, Mrs. Wong decided to take up a security guard role at the age of 66. Her working hours are from 6 am to 6 pm with an hour lunch break, which she spends at a nearby cha chaan teng. "Due to the daily expenses and high cost of living in Hong Kong, I don't have enough savings for retirement. It's also something nice to do since my kids are all grown up." A mother of four, her children are all married and in their 30s and 40s, with families of their own.


On a typical day, security guards undertake a wide range of responsibilities to ensure the safety of the buildings and worksites. Their tasks can range from building patrolling and monitoring, to managing residents’ complaints, to keeping track of non-residents, such as food deliveries, construction workers, and contract workers. “My day-to-day includes daily meet and greet with tenants, building patrol, and keeping record of the car registrations coming in and out of the building.” Although these tasks may seem simple, the job requires a lot of attention and comes with long hours.

From dawn till dusk, security guards are the silent protectors of our homes. Source: Sunkoshi Gurka Securities

Today, there are about 360,600 security personal permit holders in Hong Kong, of which 190,000 persons are employed to perform security work. Despite efforts to recruit younger talent, progress has been limited with little interest from younger age groups. To alleviate the strain caused by the labor shortage, the upper age limit for security personnel was extended from 65 to 70. In 2022, 55% of the new security permit applicant holders were aged 50 and above.

There are four categories of permits—A, B, C, and D—classified based on the type of security work and requirements. Security guards in residential buildings typically hold a Category A or B permit, which is for general guarding work without the need to carry arms or ammunition. Category A has no age limit, but for Category B permit holders, the age limit is 70 due to a wider range of job duties at multiple types of premises. According to government records, by 2029, there will be 12,211 Category A security personnels turning 70 in Hong Kong.


In Wan Chai, Mr. Cai, a 76-year-old security guard originally from Zhejiang, China, proudly brings his homecooked meals for his overnight shifts starting at 6 pm. Carrying a two-layered metal lunch box with dinner and a late-night snack, Mr. Cai acknowledges that this may not be the healthiest practice but explains, "Siu yeh (late-night meal) is unhealthy, but I often get hungry throughout the night. I need something to help me through. At 3 am, nothing is open except 7-11." A father of two, he visits his children from time to time after his shift ends. “My daughter works as a nurse in a hospital. We need to work out our schedules to meet each other. Sometimes it’s hard to mark a time that fits our work schedules.”In the nearby neighbourhood of Happy Valley, Mr. Ko, an ex-police officer, was another dedicated security guard. He spent his days greeting all the tenants coming in and out of the building, addressing everyone – including the tenant’s dogs – by their names. Having celebrated his 70th birthday a few months ago, he has retired from this duty as a Category B security guard.


As for Mrs. Wong, she said, “I want to work until I decide to retire - as long as they will still hire me.”


Each security guard has a unique story and journey. As they diligently carry out their duties, let us not forget to extend a warm smile and express our gratitude when passing through the lobbies of our buildings. These unsung heroes deserve recognition and appreciation for their unwavering commitment to our safety.


A security guard overlooking the streets of Mong Kok from Langham Place. Source: Not Just About Culture


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