Practice does not bode well for workers’ conditions

A total of 348 of the 368 employees recruited by Wasterserv since 2018 have been engaged through a contractor even though they are performing core operations at this State agency. The practice of outsourcing key duties rather than employ staff directly on its books is giving rise to administrative problems with respect to human resources management and at times complaints on precarious employment and discrimination.

The matter was recently raised in parliament by Opposition MP Robert Cutajar who asked Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia on the number of workers engaged by Wasteserv between September 2018 and the corresponding month of this year. The information tabled in parliament was split between employees engaged directly by Wasteserv and those through a contractor whereby the agency outsources its functions to a private entity.

The figures confirm that a disproportionate number of workers were employed through a contractor. It transpires that for every employee engaged by Wasteserv, 17 were employed through a contractor with the respective figures over the four-year period under review being 20 and 348.

A more detailed analysis of the data reveals that in the first nine months of this year 177 workers were employed through the contractor of whom 68 in May only. The data also confirms that outsourcing is fast becoming the main source of recruitment at Wasteserv with the respective figures being 19 in the last four months of 2018, 60 in 2019, 92 in 2020 and 177 up to September this year. On the contrary direct recruitment with Wasteserv has become the exception with just two employees in the last four months of 2018, 3 in 2019, 11 in 2020 and just 4 up to September this year.

In his reply, the Environment Minister failed to justify the reason why Wasteserv became solely reliant on outsourcing. However, his remark that this recruitment was necessary to increase the volume of recycled waste to the highest levels in 19 years, raises more even more questions, given that the increase in operations was not a one-off occasion. Indeed, it was in line with government’s long-term waste management strategy which aims to meet lofty EU targets.

While it makes little sense to outsource core operations to a third party, the practice is giving rise to other serious problems. First of all, employees who are on the books of the contractor may find themselves in no man’s land whenever they flag an issue at work as it is unclear whether they should seek redress from their employer or Wasteserv which is after all their place of work. A common incident which has frequently occurred in recent years has to do with mistakes in the salaries which results in the agency and the contractor passing the buck to each other to the detriment of the affected employees.

The over-reliance on outsourcing is also giving rise to situations whereby employees on the agency’s books have better conditions than those employed through the contractor, despite doing the exact same job. Consequently, employees working with the contractor are missing out on allowances, annual increments and promotion opportunities. Over, the years the gap is widening with the result that the discrepancy in salary is reaching thousands of euros.

In its 2022 Budget proposals UHM Voice of the Workers recommended that employees working for a contractor in State entities should enjoy the same conditions as the respective government employees and have the same opportunities and rights with respect to increments, allowances and progression. However, UHM is insisting that core operations should not be outsourced in the first place as this practice is giving rise to abuses. Outsourcing should only be considered for fringe operations which are not crucial in the day-to-day operations of the entity.