Exploring the effects of public sector outsourcing on support service workers: the cases of two outsourced companies in KwaZulu-Natal.
Mthembu, Zamazulu Fanelesibonge.
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Evidence found in the literature suggests that New Public Management is among the most important approaches to effect reform in the public sector by promoting reliance on the private sector for the delivery of services. Data from several studies suggest that the public sector has engaged private companies by outsourcing the non-core services for improving service delivery, lowering government expenditure and creating opportunities for employment. Recently, the public sector has been encountering labour unrest by contract workers, protesting against the outsourcing of support services. The research to date has tended to focus more on outsourcing to improve efficiency rather than its impact on all parties involved. This research sought to explore how the employees and contract companies perceive outsourcing and how outsourcing has affected them. Using a concurrent mixed method approach, this study collected data from two private contract companies that are providing cleaning services to various government departments in KwaZulu-Natal. The study conducted three in-depth interviews with managers, held two focus group discussions and undertook 51 surveys with workers from the two companies. While some participants in this study were conveniently selected, others were purposefully selected. The analysis showed that outsourced workers perceive outsourcing as a government initiative to create job opportunities and to reduce its costs, but it has somehow resulted in their exploitation. In as much as workers appreciate that they receive their wages and benefits in accordance with the employment agreement, they expressed their dissatisfaction with their monthly wages, which cannot meet most of their basic needs. Another reported problem was the lack of meaningful benefits. A three-year contract of employment, may imply that their future is uncertain. They may also be working in an unhealthy environment. The statistical analysis of the data gathered in this study compared the responses of workers from the two companies and there was insignificant variation that was evident between the two sets of responses. The upshot of this study is that government departments and policymakers need to understand the experiences of the outsourced workers with regard to how outsourcing has affected them socially and economically. A key ethical implication of this study is that outsourcing may be benefitting the contract companies with little benefits to outsourced workers. Instead, it might have led to unethical as well as unintended exploitation of these workers by their employers. An implication of this is that the conditions of employment of contracted workers should be revisited by policymakers. Practitioners in both the private sector and the government should seriously consider the plight of such workers in the planning and implementation of outsourcing. Although this study was limited in terms of scope and in the number of cases studied, hopefully, it provides valuable theoretical and practical insights that future studies on outsourcing can draw on.