Study suggests snow clearing suffers from government cuts
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This article was published 28/01/2022 (368 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Five months after the release of a study that said cuts to MI (Manitoba Infrastructure) and VEMA (the Vehicle Equipment Management Agency) are potentially endangering Manitobans, the MGEU has yet to engage in dialogue with the province of Manitoba.
Called “Hard Infrastructure, Hard Times: Worker Perspectives on Privatization and Contracting out of Manitoba Infrastructure”, the study was funded in part by the MGEU.
It pointed to some startling numbers such as a 33 percent reduction in MI staff since 2016, and a 20 percent reduction to the VEMA workforce.
The number of unfilled positions continues to rise, and the MGEU said they are being left open, and many are eventually eliminated due to attrition.
MGEU President Kyle Ross said they do have a scheduled meeting with government officials, and said they’re calling on the province to fill the open positions.
“It’s frustrating for Manitobans and our members because they want to deliver a good service,” he said.
Ross added they are hearing from their members and other Manitobans that snow clearing services have suffered as a result of increased contracting out.
“When you privatize these services they’re driven by dollars,” he said. “I think public services, especially snow clearing, should remain public.”
Jesse Hajer is one of the three authors of the study. An assistant professor in the Department of Economics and Labour Studies at the University of Manitoba and a research associate with the Manitoba arm of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, he brings past experience as a senior project manager with the government of Manitoba.
He said while there was no secret the PC government campaigned to cut the public service, he was surprised to learn just how much was cut, especially from Manitoba Infrastructure.
“It seemed like it was based on attrition rather than strategic consolidation of units,” he said.
Hajer said they were told by MGEU members that as people left due to attrition they just weren’t replaced. When a unit became too small, it was simply shut down.
An increase in contracting out MI services such as snow clearing was also noted.
That puts Manitoba at odds with what other provinces are doing.
Hajer said the trend is now seeing governments recognizing the limits of private provision and are taking some services back from the private sector.
Manitoba on the other hand continues to reduce the size of government and the public service, but Hajer said they’re doing it without a “systematic value for money analysis”.
The result is lower quality and expensive private sector contractors according to the study’s conclusion.
“We didn’t have access to hard data on this but from what the employees were telling us they certainly saw a reduction in value for money and costs going up,” he said.
The study states that snow clearing on highways is happening later after snowfall with a higher build up of ice and snow remaining afterwards.
That’s because according to those interviewed for the study, private contractors are more hesitant to put the blade right against the roadway because it wears out quickly. Public sector employees are more focused on the job itself.
Hajer said their findings echo other reports such as the Ontario Auditor General’s Report performed several years ago.
He said those in favour of contracting out services often come to the same conclusion.
“I think there’s this built in assumption that there are cost savings to be had by contracting out and that public sector workers are paid a lot more than private sector workers,” he said. “What we found is that wages aren’t actually that different.”
While the MGEU helped connect Hajer and his colleagues with their workers, he said they had no influence on the study itself.
“We made sure the MGEU had no role in analyzing the results or shaping the study in any way,” he said.
However, he added they would have liked to have more data.
“Ideally we would have direct access to cost data from the province, access to the type of decision making structures and what logic they’re using to pursue this type of activity, but none of that is public,” he said. “I do hope government will look at what’s been happening and perhaps give workers another chance to provide some input into this process.”
The provincial government released a statement in response to inquiries, saying they have made “significant progress filling a number of departmental vacancies” and adding they continue to recruit for many positions.
They also reaffirmed their commitment to infrastructure, citing investments in purchasing new and larger equipment.
They also argue that their snow clearing contracts have improved efficiency by working with the Association of Manitoba Municipalities and municipalities directly across the province.
“The province continues to evaluate and transform its practices to ensure resources are available to fulfil its functions,” they said.