author: alexa lawlor | staff writer
Will privatizing the bottom line cut costs?
The 2016-17 Saskatchewan government projected a $434 million deficit in the budget that was released in June. Later, in Nov. 2016, the government revised its projected deficit to $1 billion, which is more than double the amount of what was originally projected.
So, in an attempt to ease the deficit, the Government of Saskatchewan has proposed rollbacks and freezing of government workers’ wages. The most recent attempt at cost savings is in layoffs of the government janitorial staff. This decision will affect 251 Saskatchewan workers and their families. The replacement for these workers will include the privatization of cleaning services.
This is not the first time that the Saskatchewan government has decided to privatize important services.
In 2015, the decision was finalized to privatize the food services in correctional facilities. Then, later in 2015, another finalization of privatization was made, this time for the laundry services in hospitals. After these decisions were put in place, concerns arose both times.
When the food services were privatized in correctional facilities, it cut out 62 jobs. All 62 of the workers who lost their jobs were offered the opportunity to go through training to take on other jobs within the government. However, it still lowered the overall number of government jobs available by 62.
A five-year agreement was signed with Compass Group Canada in 2015, which was put in place in eight correctional facilities across Saskatchewan. The change was supposed to save $12 million for taxpayers. Conversely, after the change was in place, many inmates refused to eat due to the fact that the food was potentially unsafe, and therefore inedible.
In the second example of Saskatchewan privatization, the decision to privatize hospital linen services affected the jobs of 300 people.
In signing a contract with K-Bro, the privatization of hospital laundry services is expected to save around $93 million for taxpayers over the next ten years. Concerns began to arise not long after the new contract, when sharp objects such as needles and other surgical objects were found in clean sheets. However, according to Health Minister Jim Reiter, as quoted in a CBC News article from Nov. 2, 2016, occurrences of sharps being found in sheets are few, but have happened both before and after the privatization of the laundry services.
In Saskatchewan, private sector companies already own cleaning services for thirty government buildings. So, the government is looking into whether or not it will be beneficial to fully transition to the private sector. If there are no savings produced by the transition, the government will most likely not go through with the change.
“If there are no savings, we will not proceed with it. If there are savings, we’ll take a hard look at it,” said deputy minister for the Ministry of Central Services, Richard Murray, as quoted in a Global News article from Jan. 11, 2017.
However, according to Bob Bymoen, president of the SGEU, as quoted from the same article, cuts have already been made in cleaning services for government buildings in Weyburn. So, Bymoen states that it’s misleading for the government to say that it is simply a trial. Currently, the government has requested tender for cleaning services, which will remain open until Feb. 10. Bids are open for 101 government buildings throughout Saskatchewan.
Overall, the people being affected by these layoffs have no say in the matter. In the recent search by the government to convert the cleaning services to private sector companies, if the new service provider rehires the current workers, in the same job that they had before, the workers will be undergoing a 40 percent pay cut, according to the SGEU.
The privatization of these services has caused a lot of controversy, and it is unclear whether or not privatization is a good thing for the people of Saskatchewan. Concerns have arisen each time the government has decided to switch a service to the private sector, and some of these issues are still ongoing, like the discontent over the quality of the food services in the correctional facilities.
If there is no public outcry in response to the move toward privatization of government services, then there is nothing stopping the government from looking for other areas to privatize. In all of these privatization decisions, layoffs affected some of the lowest-paid employees. So, will these layoffs really do much to help a $1 billion deficit?