OPINION: Current outsourcing system comes at expense of workers’ dignity
By Bonginkosi Dhlamini
At the core of our Constitution is the assurance to preserve the right to dignity of every citizen, regardless of social class, age, race, or gender.
That right also extends to the many outsourced employees working in the various departments of the Gauteng Provincial Government.
It is on that principle of preserving the right to dignity of workers that we welcomed and supported the recently debated motion, at the Gauteng Legislature, to end the outsourcing of security and cleaning service employees in the province.
One lesson that I have learned in our current battle with the Covid-19 pandemic is how essential these workers are, in terms of their role as the everyday caretakers of workplace safety and hygiene services. This has compelled me to re-evaluate the importance of the people doing this work and their protection.
Indeed, it is unfortunate that, despite the minimum wage legislation being in effect, most of these essential support services workers remain poorly paid and often without benefits and employment protection.
This renders their employment precarious. Prioritisation of skills training practices by their employers, which may enable upward mobility, is limited, if not non-existent. This effectively makes contract security guards and cleaners part of the poor and working in what have become highly profitable industries.
For instance, we know that before the insourcing process, in the City of Johannesburg (COJ), security guards were earning barely one third (less than R4 000 of more than R12 000) of what was paid to the companies.
Similarly, cleaners earned around R3000 whereas the metro had paid over double that amount for each cleaner. The security guards and cleaners were barely making a minimum wage, while their employers made generous profits. This sadly remains true in the various Gauteng government departments where insourcing is still being debated.
Based on the February 2020 Gazette issued by the National Department of Labour the new minimum wage rates for contract cleaning employees and security guards are set at R22.84 per hour and R20.76 per hour respectively, in Gauteng. This puts the average low-skilled security guards and contract cleaners on a salary of less than R5 000 per month, which must be stretched out to support their families.
It is ethically disgraceful that this government can pay millions of taxpayers’ money to outsourced companies, with their high mark-up costs, that fail to provide adequate living wages and create fair and dignified conditions of employment. Hence the motion for insourcing in the province is welcome and supported.
To be fair, the IFP acknowledges the pressures the government is under to cut costs given the limited financial resources and increasing demands for service delivery. However, we also maintain the current system of outsourcing essential services, such as security and cleaning, is untenable as costs have risen and continue to rise, enriching a few elites at the expense of the human dignity of workers.
If we are to take any lessons from recent experiences of insourcing adopted by municipalities and institutions of higher learning, it is that the processes of insourcing can be long and arduous but certainly achievable.
The IFP urges the Gauteng Premier who, in his 2018 State of the Province Address (SOPA), committed to ending outsourcing in the province, to make good on his commitment because the need to effect change in the lives of those at the bottom of the income scale cannot be overstated.
Dhlamini is a member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature and chairperson of IFP Gauteng.