Campaign to end contracting out of civilian work within Department of National Defence

The DND annually gives around $4 billion of public funds to private companies rather than investing that money in building a viable public service sector and giving workers a chance to have stable Canadian standard jobs with security of employment.

September 2018. PSAC’s broad public campaign successfully halts the contracting out of cleaning services at Greenwood military base in rural Nova Scotia. The planned contracting out of cleaning services in Kingston is also reversed.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and one of its largest components, the Union of National Defence Employees (UNDE), are calling on Canadians to join its campaign to eliminate privatization within the Department of National Defence (DND). The unions released a report on October 30, “detailing the failure of privatization within the DND. Most DND bases contract out facilities management, cleaning, food preparation, grass cutting, and trades work. Services critical to DND operations, such as helicopter maintenance and airport management, are also contracted out.”

PSAC-UNDE declares, “When governments contract out public sector work to private companies, profits take priority over services, and everyone, except the corporate shareholders, ends up paying the price.”

PSAC-UNDE details the abuse of public funds and workers by the contracted companies. This abuse includes a constant demand to amend the contracts for more money and extensions, the hiding of how the money is used, terrible relations with employees and a low standard of service.

“Once the contract goes out the door, Canadians have no way of knowing how public money is being spent because of the protection of competitive advantages and corporate interests clauses in the Access to Information Act,” states Marianne Hladun, Regional Executive Vice-President, PSAC-Prairies. “Without the details of these contracts, the public has no information on inspection reports, employee salaries, equipment expenses, or profits made by the companies. When employees report being told to water down cleaning products and ration supplies, those details become very important.”

PSAC-UNDE says Canadian Forces Base budgets are skewed to ensure that it appears favourable to hire private contractors rather than having public sector employees doing the work. Within the budgetary process very little money is allotted for in-house organizing of maintenance and service. In contrast, the budget calls for “generous funds” to be paid for contracted services for Operations and Maintenance. Inexplicably, Base Commanders are bound by their budgets, which are determined by DND, not to use the public service but rather to contract out the work to private interests, “even if contracting out is more expensive.”

PSAC-UNDE says, “Instead of providing the budget to hire an adequate number of employees, the DND skimps on staffing budgets, forcing Base Commanders to contract out while knowing that it will cost more money to provide less service. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in this shell game, with substantial profits going to private corporations in Canada, and across the globe.

“In the meantime, communities across the country that rely on Canadian Forces bases for employment are left with minimum wages and precarious jobs instead of decent work that pays a decent wage and allows workers to contribute to their local economies.”

The DND annually gives around $4 billion of public funds to private companies rather than investing that money in building a viable public service sector and giving workers a chance to have stable Canadian standard jobs with security of employment. A vibrant stable public sector ensures that the DND money spent on services and maintenance for the most part flows into and throughout the local economy.

The amount contracted companies siphon off as expropriated profit is not a trifling amount. Many of these companies are global cartels that repatriate their profits to who knows where. Cartels such as Aramark, Sodexo and ATCO are notorious global privatizing profiteers involved in contracting work in health care and all manner of social programs and public services.

Alberta Experience

“Alberta is riddled with examples of unnecessary contracting out ranging from facilities management and cleaning, to kitchen staff and emergency medical response staff. We even have public sector trades people being replaced with contracted ‘handymen.’ Our bases deserve the highest quality of work, not cutting corners for profit’s sake,” states Peter Devlin, UNDE Local 30910 President. “UNDE hears incidents of contracts issued through members at the base but cannot find any public records. If there are public dollars involved, there should be public accountability, period.”

PSAC-UNDE says, “Public service janitorial workers used to be larger in scale but are slowly being eroded. In 2019, an advanced procurement notice was issued for Wainright Garrison [Alberta] for janitorial services with a total cost of $6 million over three years to supplement the work of the public service.”

Devlin insists that the union’s campaign to oppose privatization “isn’t a matter of switching private contractors, it’s about getting out of the privatization game altogether — we tried it and it failed. By investing public dollars into the public service, we know we are investing in quality work with transparency and accountability, and good stable jobs for the people of our communities.”

The experience in Alberta confirms that privatization undermines the safety of workers and their working conditions and saps money not only from the local economy but from Canada.

Saskatchewan Experience

15 Wing Moose Jaw, similar to other DND bases, has privatized and contracted out facilities’ management, cleaning, food preparation, grass cutting, trades work, helicopter maintenance, airport management and firefighters. Reports are rampant of contracted employees being pressured by their employers “to water down cleaning products and ration supplies.” Those details never come to official light because the contracts and details of the companies’ practice are kept secret and no accountability is allowed.

“At the start of the pandemic at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, it became even more clear that contracting out creates two classes of people: those protected by their employer and those that felt disposable,” UNDE Regional Vice President Mona Simcoe states. “Despite continuing to be paid, CAE subcontractors, ATCO and Sodexo, ignored directives to limit work to ‘only essential core activities’ and instructed their workers to continue to go into work, regardless of the urgency of the task.”

PSAC-UNDE writes, “DND told PSAC-UNDE that it ‘couldn’t tell the contractors how to manage’ their employees. Only through intervention by senior elected union officials — UNDE National President June Winger and Vice-President Mona Simcoe — and only when the deputy minister was brought into the situation, did contractors address the union’s concerns. But it’s still not enough. The union continues to fight for these workers’ rights as coronavirus cases dramatically increase once again.”

PSAC-UNDE emphasizes, “Contracting out creates an endless cycle of precarious work. With Aramark’s current contract complete in January 2021, Aramark employees at 15 Wing are currently under threat of losing their jobs. A new contractor would mean job losses for every Aramark employee at 15 Wing.”

For Simcoe a solution is not difficult. “With Aramark’s current contract out for proposals, now is the perfect time to bring these workers back into the public service. By investing public dollars into the public service, we know we are investing in quality work with transparency and accountability and good, stable jobs for the people of our communities,” she says.

Manitoba Experience

The Manitoba experience reveals the failures of privatization within the DND and that a solution exists in contracting the work back into the public service sector. “Over a decade ago, we experienced the failure of privatization at 17 Wing in Winnipeg. Civilian cleaners had their hours reduced from eight to six hours. Any work required outside those six hours was contracted out. It didn’t take long for there to be complaints about the quality of work provided by the private company. Contracting out created the problem and contracting the work back in has solved it,” said Mona Simcoe, UNDE Regional Vice President for Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Hladun notes, “PSAC-UNDE has analyzed the data and heard directly from affected workers and the findings are clear: Canadians pay more to get less through privatization, all the while undermining fair and safe labour practises, labour relations and the security of our bases. Now is the time to put an end to these private contracts and begin contracting back in the civilian work on DND bases.”

PSAC-UNDE’s statement concludes decisively, “Private interests have no place on Canada’s military bases.”

(With files from PSAC-UNDE and Photos: PSAC. )

TML Weekly, November 14, 2020 – No. 44

See also

Stop the Privatization Fraud! Stop the Corruption!

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Filed under Canada, Canadian Forces, Working Class

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