Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Restructuring and Employment Insecurities: The Case of Building Cleaners

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Restructuring and Employment Insecurities: The Case of Building Cleaners

Article excerpt


Cette etude dresse le portrait de l'industrie de l'entretien menager a Toronto, notamment des changements dans la composition ethnique de sa main d'oeuvre. L'auteur s'interesse a l'impact de ses changements sur la position que les travailleurs/euses de cette industrie occupent dans le marche du travail et il presente leurs luttes politiques pour le droit des travailleurs en periode de changement de la loi ontarienne du travail. L'etude conclut qu'en raison des changements legislatifs, les travailleurs/euses de l'industrie de l'entretien menager sont de plus en plus exposes aux differentes formes de vulnerabilite associees au marche du travail, notamment le declin des conditions de travail, l'insecurite d'emploi, la stagnation de la remuneration et un environnement organisationnel antisyndical.


The building cleaning industry has been identified, in the hierarchy of producer services growth, as integral to the economy of the global city. Sassen (1991), for example, argues that this industry is not a remnant from a previous, slowly disappearing capitalist stage of development. Instead, it is an industry with a purpose in the "new economy" of the city. But, beyond this kind of assessment, little work is being done on investigating the industry. This is the case in the United States and Canada. This paper, therefore, seeks to investigate the industry in Toronto and examine the extent to which it is changing in correspondence with the global city apparatus (Sassen 1991; Friedmann 1993; Friedmann and Wolff 1982; Jewson and MacGregor 1997; Keil 1998; Zukin 1995; Allen 1997; Allen, Massey, Cochrane et al. 1998; Ley, Hiebert and Pratt 1992). In addition, this paper discusses the nature of the changes and their impact on building cleaners. Of particular interest here is a discussion of the "Neo-Liberal" State's changes to labour law as it affects building cleaners. Though predominantly composed of small entrepreneurs, the industry is nonetheless dominated by a small number of large companies who set the agenda and pace of change. This is evident in the recomposition of the workforce, and in the erosion of workplace protections for cleaners. The situation for cleaners is growing insecurity and uncertainty about their working lives in the future. This is primarily a result of the "Neo-Liberal" State (Jessop and Stones 1992), and its "colour blind" policies and programmes introduced to cover all workers, regardless of their specific challenges in the labour market. Lipsitz (1998) labels such an approach as an "investment in whiteness" since it assumes that race and gender (Brodie 1996; Evans 1997; Dua and Robertson 1999) are irrelevant in framing social policy initiatives. But under this assumption, "whiteness" becomes the standard by which the racially diverse workforce is dealt with (Lipsitz 1998). That is, the race and ethnicity of workers needs to be emasculated if they are to achieve a reasonable standard of living (Roediger 1991; Dyer 1997). It is, put in another way, the race and ethnicity of workers that acts as a barrier to their progress and integration into the Canadian economy and society.

Cleaners have resisted the deterioration of their working conditions and organized to achieve successor rights recognition in Ontario labour legislation (White 1993). They believe the latter to be key to improving their conditions of work, wages, job security and labour market position. In this paper, I describe this resistance, and recent changes to Ontario's labour law (Bill 7) for the purpose of understanding the vulnerability of cleaners in the restructuring labour market.

The paper begins with an overview of the industry and the recomposition of its workforce. This is followed by a discussion of labour law, and its impact on cleaners for workplace action and unionization purposes.

The Building Cleaning Industry--A "Corporate Service"

The building cleaning business is part of what Saskia Sassen has labeled the "corporate services sector," because it leans towards economic polarization, which, directly and indirectly, contributes to "informalization of certain old and new activities" (1987, 139). …

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