Most universities still outsourcing services despite protests

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University workers’ demonstration against outsourcing.
University workers’ demonstration against outsourcing.

Most South African universities are still outsourcing their cleaning, gardening, security and catering services despite calls and protests by students since 2015 to end the exploitative practice.

A parliamentary report from September last year, which City Press has seen, reveals that “all universities” were contacted by Minister of Higher Education and Training Naledi Pandor to indicate whether they were insourcing or outsourcing their services.

The department spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, confirmed that “no responses” were received from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Rhodes University, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Fort Hare, University of the Free State and Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

According to the report, only the University of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela University and University of Pretoria indicated that they were insourcing all services, while the University of Venda indicated that it was only outsourcing student catering.

CPUT spokesperson Lauren Kansley said the university was insourcing all staff except caterers.

Tensions ran high at Wits last week as workers protested against allegations of continued outsourcing.

This was, however, disputed by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union branch secretary at Wits, Tumisho Madihlaba, who said the issue concerned 35 relief workers who were not among those insourced.

He said Wits agreed last week to absorb the workers.

Wits University spokesperson Buhle Zuma said the university committed to and has completed the in-sourcing of all workers who met the qualifying criteria that was agreed to, through negotiations, by members of the Insourcing Implementation Task Team. 

“Temporary and relief workers that were utilised by the then service providers, were not insourced, as they did not meet the agreed criteria. The current discussions relate to workers who serve as relief workers when cleaning employees are absent, on sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, paternity leave, and skills development training,” Zuma said.

She said the services management department at Wits motivated for the creation and appointment of an internal pool of “permanent relief workers to be managed by the university last year.

Zuma said the university was engaging with the affected relief workers and union representatives to expedite offers of appointment to qualifying candidates.

Fort Hare spokesperson Lizo Phiti said security services were being insourced, but were expensive.

He said the institution was pro-insourcing, but a task team was still putting together a report on how best to proceed.

Sol Plaatje University spokesperson Patrick FitzGerald said the institution insourced its security and cleaning services.

“It is considerably more expensive, however, the university believes our insourced security services will be more effective.”

Gasant Abarder of the University of the Western Cape (UWC) said no insourcing had happened yet.

“It is important to keep in mind the history of resource disparity between institutions of higher learning. The university also needs to balance competing imperatives. This includes taking the interests of students into account ... UWC’s fees are some of the lowest in the country,” said Abarder.

He said a council had concluded that insourcing would present a substantial financial risk, but had agreed to pay workers a site allowance and the benefit of a study rebate, whereby workers and their dependants would have access to free tuition at UWC and 95% free tuition at CPUT.

North-West University’s Louis Jacobs said a portion of catering services were insourced at the Potchefstroom campus and full catering services at the Vaal Triangle campus, while a portion of security services were insourced at the Potchefstroom, Vaal and Mafikeng campuses.

“This is a more expensive way of procuring services, but it is more effective to have a balance of insourced and outsourced staff,” Jacobs said.

He said the children of outsourced workers were entitled to the same fee remission as those of insourced staff.

Central University of Technology spokesperson Daniel Maritz said gardening, cleaning and a portion of security services were insourced.

He said certain services were still outsourced because they were complex and highly specialised, requiring technical skills and sometimes expensive equipment.

Stellenbosch University’s Martin Viljoen said a process of “viable sourcing” was implemented in 2016, which “can manifest in different outcomes”.

Vaal University of Technology spokesperson Mike Khuboni said none of their services are to be outsourced., instead  there were discussions going on regarding insourcing

Khuboni said unions, student representative council and management had agreed that the university security services should be insourced.  

There was no word from the rest of the country’s 24 tertiary institutions.

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