GREENWOOD, N.S. - The union representing Canada’s federal public sector employees is worried that a plan to privatize cleaning services at two air force bases signals a concerning trend.
Colleen Coffey, Atlantic Canada executive vice-president with PSAC, says seven term-contract, unionized cleaners at 14 Wing Greenwood were recently notified that as of Sept. 30 their jobs would be terminated before their term positions could have rolled into full-time jobs.
Instead, the government plans to contract out their jobs to a private company. The remaining 25 full-time cleaners will not be laid off but will have their positions replaced by contractors when they retire or leave the base. At Ontario’s CFB Kingston, there will be no immediate layoffs but the 186 unionized cleaners there will also eventually be replaced by contractors.
A tender for a one-year contract for janitorial services at CFB Greenwood to begin on Oct. 1 is currently active on the federal government’s buy and sell website.
“What they’re doing to these people is they’re saying ‘well we’re not laying you off,’ they’re giving them a letter that says ‘services no longer required,’” Coffey, who lives in Greenwood, told The Chronicle Herald.
“That’s a lie because the service is required and on (Oct. 1) someone is going to do that service.”
Coffey said the seven cleaners, who receive a livable salary as well as benefits, can apply to work with the company that wins the contract but there is no guarantee they’ll get a position. And if they do, Coffey said, they can likely expect a significant pay cut and minimal benefits.
In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by one of the CFB Greenwood cleaners, who allowed The Chronicle Herald to use the information under the condition of anonymity due to future employment concerns, said the janitorial staff were under the impression that they were working toward a full-time, indeterminate (without a contract-imposed end date) position. She said she feels outraged, betrayed and concerned for her future.
Before landing her job at Greenwood, the woman said she was on social assistance and she struggled to care for her children.
“Now… that I have been employed with DND, I have been, and am, a functioning and productive as well as tax-paying and contributing member of society,” she said. “Being able to feed, clothe and house my children comfortably and in all the ways they need is extremely important to me and this job provides me the opportunity to do that.”
She said the medical benefits and paid leave allow her to meet the medical needs of her children.
“If I have to go back to being unable to provide for my children, that responsibility will fall on our province and welfare system, which in turn, makes myself and my children a burden to society and its tax-paying citizens,” she says in the letter.
In a response back from the Department of National Defence on behalf of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, the woman was told that as a result of financial pressures, “14 Wing cannot proceed with indeterminate staffing for cleaners at this time.”
“I understand that management is taking steps to assist you and the other cleaners in finding alternate employment by offering you courses such as resume writing and interview preparation at the Learning and Career Centre, providing additional training, and referring your resumes to other areas where your skill sets may fit, such as food services,” the response reads.
“While I regret that my response could not be more favourable, I would like to wish you all the best in your future endeavours.”
Coffey said she’s extremely disappointed with the response from Ottawa, and she’s concerned more good paying, unionized jobs will disappear in this way.
“This is definitely a trend, there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Once they know they can do it, once a contract is in place, I would bet my last dollar that that contract will say ‘open to other areas.’”
Coffey said in some places, such as CFB Halifax, most of the janitorial positions have been contracted out.
PSAC is sending out information to 7,200 households in the Greenwood area, urging residents to contact MP Colin Fraser in an attempt to save the positions. Also, a rally is being planned for next month.
“We’re fighting back on this,” Coffey said. “One position contracted out is too many.”
In an emailed statement, the National Defence said the department remains committed to providing the Armed Forces “with the support they need to accomplish their missions, while ensuring value for taxpayer money.”
“We are confident that site support services will continue to be provided in the most efficient and professional manner in order to guarantee adaptable and reliable facilities and infrastructure for our personnel,” said the statement.