Does obsession with privatization schemes being “on time” compromise safety?

"This situation is yet another reminder that health and safety legislation is much more effective where the labour movement is powerful enough to prevent it being ignored.” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President

Ottawa (03 May 2017) — A series of serious safety problems during the construction of an Ottawa P3 privatization scheme raises questions about whether the push to finish P3 projects “on time” affects safety.

One claim the privatization industry makes repeatedly about P3 privatization schemes is that they ensure projects are completed on time. The claim that projects are completed on time is one of the main justifications given for the higher cost of using P3 privatization schemes. But as with many privatization industry claims, the claim that using P3 privatization schemes guarantees a project will be on time doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Planning, contract negotiation process not considered when deciding if P3 privatization scheme on time

With any infrastructure project, a large chunk of time can be spent on planning, tendering and negotiating contracts. With P3 privatization schemes, even more time is often needed because the contracts are so complex. But when assessing whether a P3 privatization scheme is on time, the time taken for planning and negotiations is ignored.

In a 2016 paper, academics from the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, point out that for P3 privatization schemes, “in effect, ‘the clock’ starts ticking later.”

Ottawa P3 privatization scheme has experienced repeated safety problems

As a recent CBC Ottawa report describes, the P3 privatization scheme to build a light rail line in Ottawa has experienced repeated safety problems. Most recently, it was a crane tipping over. A month ago, a truck piston smashed through the cab of a truck. There have been 2 serious sinkholes. Last year, serious problems included a bridge collapse, workers trapped by falling concrete in a tunnel, a fire in a tunnel and dangerous situations involving electrical equipment.

The president of the Ottawa and District Labour Council, Sean McKenny, has suggested that the problems are due to the focus on finishing the project before the 2018 deadline. What people who are concerned about the safety of both workers and the public are wondering is whether there would be the same pressure to cut corners if the project wasn’t a P3 privatization scheme.

Secrecy surrounding privatization schemes helps hide problems

Privatization schemes are notorious for their reliance on secrecy and lack of transparency. In the case of Ottawa's P3 privatization scheme for the LRT, this extends to requiring workers to sign confidentiality agreements.

Without the Ottawa and District Labour Council raising concerns about safety, it is not clear how much the public would know.

“This situation is yet another reminder that health and safety legislation is much more effective where the labour movement is powerful enough to prevent it being ignored," said Larry Brown, President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). “It also illustrates why the secrecy surrounding privatization schemes is so dangerous.”

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. ~ NUPGE