Wellington Scoop

Outsourcing: on the job, or on the dole

CounterSpin by Tom Frewen
“How do you want to pay for these people — with your rates or your taxes?”
That was the response to my suggestion that the local council contract out the job of mowing lawns around its old folks’ homes.

I’d been put on the lawn-mowing gang after looking for some outdoor work between office jobs, back when “outsourcing” was hitting the base of a Watties bottle with the palm of your hand.

There were about half-a-dozen of us in the gang. Our day began at eight with a cuppa in the basement of a council sports stadium. Then we drove out to inspect lawns that might need mowing, returning to HQ for morning tea at ten. Mowers loaded on the truck, we delivered them to the target lawn, driving back to HQ for lunch at noon. In the afternoon we drove back out and actually mowed a lawn, returning for afternoon tea at three, going back to retrieve the mowers so as to knock off sharp at four.

Looking back, it’s hard to see how we managed to spend so much time at the tip. And there were also the lengthy planning meetings – when we encountered another gang on the road, the foremen talked strategy.

Coming from a stressful job with deadlines, it took me a while to get into the rhythm. At one point they threatened to tie bricks to my ankles to slow me down.

But I learned a couple of important lessons. The first was the importance of having a job, any job. The second was in the council officer’s response to my outsourcing suggestion. The workers still had to be paid, he said, pointing out that few of the men in my gang would find other work. On the dole, taxpayers picking up the tab, they would much the poorer for not having a job to go to during the day, a sense of purpose, social life, dignity.

I was reminded of his words last week. Commenting on the retirement of Wellington receptionist Shirleen Ericson, after 52 years with Radio New Zealand, chief executive Peter Cavanagh described her dedication to the company as an “incredible achievement” requiring “the sort of loyalty and commitment that people starting out these days can’t even imagine”.

But it’s not the workers, it’s their employers, like the Wellington City Council which last week laid off 27 works staff, that lack the loyalty and the commitment.


  1. Rosamund Averton, 18. April 2013, 17:29

    Well said Tom,

    Paying people regular and good salaries benefits society by ensuring that the sums earned are invested (!) in goods that hopefully will be manufactured or produced locally.

    The workers will feel secure and healthier thus benefiting the community at large. The organisation employing the workers will benefit by retaining institutional knowledge whilst sustaining healthy relationships that profit all workers, clients and/or customers.

  2. sam, 23. April 2013, 12:24

    Wow, looks like the council mowing squad did less work than the Greeks!

  3. Olive Weir, 7. May 2013, 18:17

    Such is the way of Government in a so called Democracy. It’s not their money so wasting it is not an issue.