'Extremely marginal saving': Critics sceptical of cleaning service privatization

Talks of privatizing cleaning services for all government-owned buildings would save very little money, according to critics.

Union president says 250 jobs on the line

According to Bob Bymoen, president of SGEU, seven workers in Weyburn, Sask., have been told they're losing their jobs. (Cory Herperger/CBC)

A union leader is calling the government of Saskatchewan's potential privatization of cleaning services "immoral and unethical."

On Wednesday, news emerged that the province was considering privatizing the services in government buildings. The government says it has yet to come to a final decision.

But Bob Bymoen, president of Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union, which represents these workers, said seven workers in Weyburn have already been told they're losing their jobs.

"They got notice of job abolition yesterday," said Bymoen. "I don't know where the government's coming across pretending that people aren't losing their jobs."

Vulnerable employees

Bymoen said many of the 250 people facing potential job cuts are among the lowest paid in government.

With a private company looking to turn a profit off a contract, Ken Rasmussen, a professor at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, says privatization can turn into a race to the bottom in terms of wages.

"I think a lot of people will see this as picking on the most vulnerable members of your workforce," he said.

Ideology vs. savings

Bymoen said the real issue "is the spending of billions of dollars, and hundreds and millions of dollars, that the government has done that wasn't appropriate; it wasn't needed and it's put our economy into a tail-spin."

It's a direction governments generally take when they're facing desperate times.- Ken Rasmussen, professor at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy

But Rasmussen said these cuts have more to do with ideology than they do with savings.

"It's an extremely marginal saving for a government that is facing a very deep, deep [financial] hole," said Rasmussen.

Even if the government says it is just considering privatization, he believes they are likely serious about pursuing it.

"It's a direction governments generally take when they're facing desperate times," said Rasmussen.

He said this move can be interpreted as a signal for how willing the Saskatchewan Party is to saving, regardless of how ill-advised. He said whatever savings occur from privatization happen in the long-run and are generally minimal, as the work that was expected of public employees still needs to be done one way or another.