COMPANIES that supply temporary staff for catering and other services should benefit from unsure economic times and a lack of skills, Fedics Site Services MD Andrew St Clair-Laing told Business Day last week.

Mr St Clair-Laing said in the interview: "This late time of the year is very good for us. People want to finish projects or host events and they need staff — be it caterers, cleaners, whatever we can outsource — so we are there to fill the voids," he said.

Fedics is a subsidiary of Tsebo Outsourcing Group whose catering division operates within South Africa, and also spans across neighbouring countries and the Middle East. Clients include corporations, educational and healthcare institutions, industrial, construction, mining and remote sites.

Mr St Clair-Laing said Tsebo had recently found greater success in African countries including Mozambique and Botswana than in South Africa.

"We have established that there is construction going on in South Africa, which means the construction staff at projects need services. But we, like many other outsourcing companies, are finding growth opportunities in Africa, where masses of infrastructure is being developed," he said.

Country Fresh Catering owner William Matthews said he was "very positive" about how his business would perform next year. "We already have orders for January and February. Times are good — we are not just getting business from year-end functions," he said.

Mr Matthews said his company catered for corporate events daily during the week and that demand had climbed strongly after the 2008-09 recession. "June and July were lean months but activity has picked up and I think will stay strong if not pick up even more next year," he said.

Tsebo marketing director Royce van der Zwan said outsourcing companies had been accused by unions of using brokered labour where people’s working rights were abused.

"It is wrong to say companies which outsource services use brokered temporary labour only and that all are abusive. We sometimes draw up contracts where people service a company basically on a permanent basis as the project lasts years. However, we can also use temporary labour.

"South Africa needs to appreciate that many services are outsourced in South Africa and that labour rights are observed," he said.

South Africa has an unemployment rate of 25.5%. There are skills shortages in the working population as well and the cost of living is rising. Another challenge for small and medium companies, including caterers, was abiding by broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) criteria.

The public commentary period for the new codes ended last week, with some groups including the Black Management Forum (BMF) saying they wanted the BBBEE compliance requirements for qualifying small enterprises (QSEs) to be the same as those for large companies.

"We note that QSEs will only have to comply with two of the proposed priority elements. Ownership is compulsory," the BMF said.