Toronto must stop contracting out municipal cleaning jobs to stem the alarming growth of working poor in the city, academics and community leaders say.
“Turning good jobs into poverty wage jobs will only deepen the current job crisis,” they say in an open letter to Mayor Rob Ford and council being released Thursday. “Toronto’s budget issues should not be resolved at the expense of these cleaners, their families and their neighbourhoods.”
Almost 1,000 cleaning jobs in municipal buildings, police stations, daycares, social housing and long-term care facilities are at risk, they say.
The call comes in the wake of a recent report that shows more than 70,700 workers in Toronto are struggling to get by on poverty-level wages, a number that jumped by 8.2 per cent between 2000 and 2005.
It also comes a week after the Toronto Police Service signed a $1.7 million one-year contract with a private cleaning company, eliminating 100 jobs with benefits that paid about $20 an hour. Private cleaners typically earn the minimum wage of $10.25 an hour and receive few benefits.
“A well-functioning city needs all types of people, including people who maintain our civic buildings,” said University of Toronto professor David Hulchanski, among about 100 academics who signed the open letter.
“To replace them with people who earn half as much a year, with no benefits is just another example of how governments are increasing the social divide in our city,” added Hulchanski, a contributor to last weekend’s groundbreaking Metcalf Foundation report, “ ‘The Working Poor’ in the Toronto Region: Who they are, where they live and how trends are changing.”
The city’s community development committee will discuss the issue of low-wage work next week.
Rachael Rocca, 35, had hoped a cleaning job with Toronto Community Housing would be her ladder out of poverty.
In the summer of 2010, the single mother of three was among 30 tenants chosen to participate in a year-long apprenticeship program to train for a permanent position paying about $21 an hour, with benefits.
Eager to build a better future for her family, Rocca used her $14.50 hourly apprenticeship earnings to move out of her subsidized three-bedroom townhouse in Lawrence Heights and into a three-bedroom market-rent apartment in Weston.
But last summer Toronto Community Housing cancelled the apprenticeship program and instead of hiring Rocca and the others, continued to use a private cleaning company for about 100 positions that used to be filled by staff.
“We were devastated,” Rocca recalled. “We were all crying. We had all worked so hard and had been told if we did well that we would be hired.”
Rocca, who now receives employment insurance, has seen her $980 biweekly paycheques cut by half. She struggles to pay her $980 monthly rent.
“I needed that job for my children and for my financial security,” she said. “Now I have nothing.”
Source: Toronto Star