Union calls privatized Sask. government cleaning services 'a mean-spirited move'

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The union representing 230 Saskatchewan government building cleaners says the province's move to privatization is "mean-spirited."

In January, the province announced it would be privatizing cleaning services in an effort to cut costs. It is now negotiating with the 12 firms that will clean 95 government buildings.

The government said it will save $3.5 million, starting in 2017-18, by privatizing cleaning services.

"It's shameful for government to be making its lowest paid, most vulnerable employees pay the price for its own financial mismanagement," said SGEU president Bob Bymoen.

The union said 230 workers in 17 communities will be laid off in June.

The Ministry of Central Services will be negotiating contracts with the 12 companies, six of which are employee groups.

"The successful submissions have demonstrated the ministry can save $3.5 million annually, helping the province save money during the current challenging fiscal times," said Christine Tell, minister of central services, in a press release.

"Equally important is that half of the successful companies are employee-owned and all companies have committed to hiring current employees."

Severance and savings

The deputy minister of central services, Richard Murray, said the savings were calculated based on a cost per square foot basis.

"We have determined that our cost to clean is $2.19 per square foot on average across the province. Private sector cleaning is right around $1.50 per square foot," Murray said.

The ministry calculated the current cost for cleaning services at $11 million; it said the private sector cost is $7.5 million.

Severance payments will cost $3 million, he said.

Layoffs and re-hires

It is not clear how many of the workers laid off will be rehired. The ministry said it notified employees on Monday.

"We understand there are employees affected by this decision. The Ministry of Central Services is committed to working with these employees and their union, within the terms of their collective bargaining agreement," Tell said.

The union said the employees will be able to re-apply for their old job at a lower wage.

"Cutting these living wage jobs will mean less money spent in local communities, more poverty-line wages, and more people having to rely on our social safety net," Bymoen said.

The province has 30 government buildings in Saskatoon and some north of the city already cleaned by private companies.

The ministry will negotiate contracts terms with the hope that the new firms will be cleaning buildings by July 1.