Lisa Dorigatti

Working Conditions in Social Services: Vertical Disintegration and Public Procurement

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Working Conditions; Procurement; Comparison of Public and Private Enterprises and Nonprofit Institutions, Privatization, Contracting Out.

Over the last decades, the provision of social services by local governments has been characterised by the involvement of private actors through processes such as procurement or accreditation. The literature on welfare systems has widely analyzed the various welfare mix configurations in different countries and explored the effects of these structures in terms of service quality and economic efficiency. Rarely, however, the way in which these processes have impacted on the conditions of workers employed in social services has been examined. This article wants to explore the relationship between vertical disintegration processes and working conditions, highlighting the role of public procurement in influencing the terms of employment in the private segment of the social services sector. In particular, we will show that the growing reliance on market mechanisms for the provision of social services has given rise to a labour market characterized by low wages and worse employment conditions, strong employment and income insecurity, reduced professional support, and a significant incidence of free work. We will show that these features characterising employment in private providers of social services are closely linked to the criteria and mechanisms through which local authorities acquire services. First, we will highlight how access to a less regulated and more flexible labor market is one of the main reasons for explaining the externalisation of service provision. Secondly, we will show that the pressures for cost containment and higher flexibility exercised by local governments in procurement processes reduce the autonomy of private service providers in managing their workers and are often passed down to the workers. Hence, we will argue that much of the responsibility for the poor working conditions experienced by workers in the private segment of the social services sector lies in the characteristics of public procurement and in the contracting conditions under which private providers operate.

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