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Burnaby job ad for cleaning human poop raises questions about fair wages for dirty jobs

“Agree to clean dog poop, human poop, and vomit,” stated the first line of the job notice posted on Reddit. The job ad listed a wage of $16 per hour.
A Burnaby job ad posted for a janitorial role raised questions online about fair wages for dirty jobs.

An online post about a crappy Burnaby job sparked a timely discussion about janitorial work in Metro Vancouver recently.

“Agree to clean dog poop, human poop, and vomit,” stated the first line of the job notice posted on Reddit.

The wage was listed at $16 per hour, which will be 75 cents below the minimum wage once an increase comes into effect in June.

“It’s just insane that the company can get away with offering such a low wage for a job dealing with biohazards on what must be a fairly regular basis, especially with how high the cost of living is in Burnaby,” stated the Reddit user who posted the job description.

“I know most janitors have to deal with waste to a certain extent, but having it in the first line of the description is quite a red flag. If it’s that common for cleaners in this building to deal with that then the wage should be bumped up even more. $16/hr is insulting.”

Along with sharing their own poop and puke stories, many who commented on the post agreed the wage was too low for the work and wasn’t enough to make ends meet in Burnaby.

(The living wage for Metro Vancouver is now $24.08/hour, according to the Living Wage for Families BC campaign.)

Commenters also echoed concerns about biohazards and the need for proper PPE to protect workers.

Two posts speculated the job description had been deliberately designed to turn off Canadian job seekers, so the company could hire temporary foreign workers.

The temporary foreign worker program is designed to be used by companies facing short-term labour shortages when no Canadians or permanent residents are available.

Recruitment documents and ads can be used to support applications to the program, according to Employment and Social Development Canada.

Alliance Maintenance Ltd., the janitorial and building management company behind the job notice, has been registered in the temporary foreign worker program since January.

The company did not respond to requests for comment.

The Reddit user who posted the job notice has “a lot of respect for cleaners and janitors,” according to one comment.

“This is necessary work; it’s difficult work, and they deserve to be paid fairly.”

The Reddit discussion turned out to be timely.

'Absolutely offensive'

Last weekend, a union working to improve working conditions for janitors began a round of collective bargaining that could see about 2,000 cleaners working at about a dozen different Lower Mainland companies covered by one “master agreement.”

“We’re doing what we call central bargaining for the first time,” said Christine Bro, a union organizer with Service Employees International Union Local 2. “That way the cleaning companies can’t be undercutting each other.”

As outlined in its Justice for Janitors campaign, the union is working to raise industry standards for all cleaners by securing better working conditions and respect at work.

In Bro’s view, that respect is lacking in the job description posted on Reddit.

“It’s absolutely offensive, I would say, to anyone applying, especially when you see what’s involved and right away when you look at the $16 wage rate,” she said.

The next question that comes to mind, she said, was whether the company was providing proper training and PPE for handling human and animal waste.

In Bro’s view, the way to ensure janitors get respect and decent working conditions is to organize.

“When they’re not unionized, they don’t have the collective power, which our members do, to bargain better wages,” she said. “Yes OK, you might have to clean poop every now and then and do this kind of work, but are you being properly compensated?”

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
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