Image Map

Worldwide push for outsourcing causes misery for workers

Outsourcing work is a phenomenon that is increasing everywhere, especially in emerging markets like Turkey to compete with cheap labor in China, but it causes many problems for workers, making them suffer as if they are modern day slaves. 
Some economists argue that outsourcing work is necessary to be able to compete because this is the only way to reduce production costs, but UNIONs maintain that cheap labor decreases quality and increases the misery of people. “Turkey is trying to be the China of Europe by encouraging the outsourcing of work,” Secretary-General of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ UNIONs (DİSK) Tayfun Görgün told Sunday’s Zaman.

According to him, in Turkey around 3 million workers work for outsourcing companies, which don’t provide normal benefits, and both their working and living conditions are inhumane and the quality of their work is low, too. But economist Mehmet Hakan from İstanbul University points out to compete with China the cost of production has to be reduced, and there are three ways to do it: get cheap raw materials, cheap energy or cheap labor but the first two are not possible. He said reducing profit margins is not an option any more because they are already very low.

According to Hakan: “We are at the crossroads. We have to answer this question: Shall we keep wages high and lose our international competitiveness, or shall we lower wages and try to survive the negative effects of countries like China?”

However, regardless of the options, working conditions for workers at outsourcing companies are very poor and getting worse every day. The outsourced working force is mostly used in the public sector for services like cleaning, transportation and health. Its use has also started to increase in the private sector, too. “Outsourced workers have been preferred, especially in the public sector, during the last 10 years. Municipalities and the health sector are hiring them. For example, in the health sector there are around 120,000 outsourced workers,” says Görgün, adding that in the public sector altogether there are around 2 million outsourced workers beside the 1 million in the private sector. “But hiring outsourced workers causes low quality as well. In the health sector, this breaks the chain of service. If you are hiring cheap workers without job security under poor conditions and without paying overtime, then you are risking the lives of the patients,” he pointed out.

The health sector previously used to hire its own workers for cleaning, cooking and hospital attendants, but later they started to buy these services from outsourcing firms. The health sector by doing this manages to cut down on salary and social security payments, but the firms pay less to workers and make them work long hours, which results in a decline in the quality of the work.

According to Görgün, over time not only supplementary services but some other positions like X-ray technicians, nurses and even doctors started to work with outsourcing companies. “It is almost impossible for these workers to improve their working conditions because they are not allowed to be members of UNIONs. If they try to do it, they lose their jobs. If they attempt to do it, the real employer launches a new tender, hiring a new outsourcing company,” he pointed out.

Workers are paying for the mistakes of subcontracting firms

Such a situation was brought to the attention of the public when an outsourced cleaning worker, Türkan Albayrak, who was fired due to her UNION activities at the hospital she worked at in İstanbul, held a protest in the garden of her former workplace for 117 days. She also went on a hunger strike but was eventually offered a new job in a hospital near her home by the Ministry of Health. But other outsourced workers are neither as resilient nor as lucky as Albayrak.

According to Görgün, the real employers may pay the salaries of its outsourced workers on time, but the subcontracting companies use this money for other investments and are not keen on paying the salaries of the workers on time.

“In cases of bankruptcy of the subcontractor, workers seek their rights in court, and they try to make the real employers responsible. Usually the courts decide in favor of workers, but of course after some time,” he said. He underlines that even big factories that use mass production are eventually changing their system and prefer to hire workers without UNIONs.

Görgün added that work accidents and occupational diseases are increasing in Turkey because the measures that are supposed to be taken to prevent them are ignored by subcontracting firms. Vocational training has simply disappeared. In that regard, he noted that recent accidents in mines and on docks happened in places using outsourced workers.

Comparing the situation with European countries, Görgün pointed out outsourcing companies are also used in Europe, but they have UNIONs, and the main responsibility is on the shoulders of the real employers. He added the government is preparing some amendments to various laws that will increase the number of outsourced workers.

“For example, they will regulate a new system called work-upon-call. In this system, employers will hire workers only seasonally. As a worker you will work and get your salary only if the employer calls you. At other times you won’t work, you will sit at home and will not be paid. According to him the only way to improve working conditions for outsourced workers is to let them have UNIONs and strictly monitor subcontracting firms and real employers.

“The government wants to make Turkey one of the 10 largest economies in the world, and this is why it is encouraging outsourced workers. It is telling foreign companies that labor is cheap in Turkey. Maybe Turkey will be one of the biggest economies in the world, but a future awaits in which people will not be able to live well economically,” he says.

But economist Hakan argues that hiring outsourced workers is just to keep the economy alive. “Raw material prices are almost the same everywhere. Energy is expensive in Turkey, and the only way to keep prices of products low is through cheap labor,” Hakan said. He added that Turkey is able to compete with China in European markets despite its slightly higher prices than Chinese products because their quality is better. “But it is not clear for how long this situation will go on. The prices of Turkish products are just 10-15 percent lower than competitors with the same quality,” he suggested, adding that hiring workers from outsourcing firms is the only way to maintain the situation.

He thinks that the recent global crisis emerged due to cheap production in China. According to him, since labor is cheap in China, Western firms either closed their factories or moved to places where labor is cheap. This led to unemployment, and people were not able to pay their mortgages exacerbating the crisis.

Article by Ayşe Karabat