Outsourced: Hospital Cleaners and Support Workers in Vancouver

WCPC Seminar Series on Poverty and Policy: Fall 2008

Presented by Daniyal Zuberi
Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of British Columbia
Monday, November 17, 2008  3:00 - 4:00 p.m., questions / discussion until 4:30 p.m.
Parrington Hall Commons, Room 308
University of Washington


Dr. Daniyal Zuberi is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of British Columbia. His research interests are in Urban Poverty Social Policy, Canada-U.S. Comparative Research, Labour, Education, Health Immigration Inequality, Social Welfare. His current research focuses on the experiences of hospital cleaners, food service, and other health care support workers in Vancouver area hospitals. He is finishing a project which involves interviews and observations at ten elementary schools in east Vancouver and seeks to understand what school and community factors promote or hinder literacy, numeracy, and social emotional development. Another research project he is working on is called "Urban Poverty in the Pacific Northwest: A Four City Comparative Study of Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, and Portland." Dr. Zuberi received his Ph.D., A.M. from Harvard University, his M.Sc. from Oxford University, and his B.A. from Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Zuberi has written numerous books and articles, won multiple awards and currently teaches in the areas of Urban Sociology, Qualitative Methods, and Community Action Research.
Website: www.soci.ubc.ca/index.php?id=11217


Hospital support workers clean and sterilize post-operative surgical rooms. They prepare meals for diabetic patients and people with severe allergies as well as dispose of used needles and toxic waste. Hospital support employees – including cleaners, maintenance, laundry, and food service employees – play an important and all too often invisible role in the provision and quality of hospital-based medical care.

This paper describes the findings of research that examines work conditions of these hospital support jobs and begins to evaluate the impact of the 2003 decision to outsource all hospital support services in Vancouver, Canada. Based on in-depth interviews with 42 employees, the findings suggest that contracting out of these services to major private multinational corporations has had deleterious consequences for the employees and their families as well as the health care system. Outsourcing resulted in an initial steep reduction of wages for hospital support staff – from approximately $18 per hour to between $9-12 per hour – with fewer benefits. Despite recent increases in wages, many workers still report challenges making ends meet. Workers in these jobs also report a lack of proper training, high levels of on-the-job injuries, and high levels of stress

To conclude, I discuss some of the implications of the findings for the sociology of work and health. I also propose some policy solutions for mitigating the negative consequences of reform, and describe the beginning of a living wage movement in Vancouver that has emerged as a result of this decision to outsource these jobs.


See the slides from this presentation here.