– Janitor, Vancouver
Harjit Sahota cleans the Pacific Centre shopping centre in downtown Vancouver. With almost 20 years of service in the industry, she and understands the precarious nature of janitorial work.
Harjit became a single mother of two a long time ago. Her son was barely seven and her daughter an infant of one and a half. She entered the service sector working in hotels. After decades of working two full-time jobs, as she still does today, she managed to buy a home for her young family. Those children are now adults.
Now Harjit worries about being able to manage her finances. If she were to be laid off, she doesn’t think government programs will be enough to make ends meet. “It’s already hard for us to meet our basic living expenses with my full wages. How are people going to pay their rent or mortgage, and what about the bills?” she asks. “How are people like me going to navigate the system?”
Workers like Harjit face a real dilemma. Staying home is safer but not an option– it’s simply unaffordable. And so, Harjit at 64 years of age, and at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, marches out her door and works night and day.
“The fact that we might be exposed to the virus scares me the most,” she says. “Sometimes people are breathing into my face because there’s no space to move in those rooms.”
Being a union member has empowered workers like Harjit.
In March, SEIU sent a letter to janitorial companies throughout Canada putting them on notice that if certain health and safety precautions continued to be ignored, companies would face potential work disruptions and refusals.
These days they are focusing a lot on cleaning door knobs and handles to keep people safe.