The contracted arborist services file has attracted considerable attention in recent weeks following a couple of stories out of Ontario. The coverage is not a good look for anyone involved. A private tree care company has filed a $31 million lawsuit alleging a competitor had been given unfair access to local government contracts (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/london-ontario-foresty-tree-service-lawsuit-1.5914676). This news came days following investigator's surveillance video footage being provided to the press of City staff and contractors engaging in time wasting and concerning practices (https://globalnews.ca/news/7627799/toronto-tree-maintenance-forestry-auditor-general-report/). Both stories are shitty whichever side of the biz you find yourself on when it comes to perceptions of taxpayers or prospective customers of tree services.
If you've provided procured services to government as a contractor for any period of time, you've likely caught rumblings of shifty business and maybe on more than one occasion. In my short time in the tree industry I've caught wind of sole-sourcing of service providers over multiple terms, gift loads of firewood for people involved in procuring services, billing for equipment and labour that wasn't actually working (over days and weeks), sneaking in res jobs and double billing, misleading bids of capacity and capabilities to limit access to competitors, and government staff openly persuading their favourite contractor's staff to apply for job postings. I've been in earshot of more than one owner speaking seething comments of City tree workers only to find themselves later in breach of contract over egregious violations of terms. Termination of contract is rarely confirmed in public although for anyone watching bid sites for tenders, it's not hard to put one and one together. Private tree care owners and leadership in government responsible for hiring tree service contractors tend to think that frontline tree workers on both sides of the industry don't talk to each other.
For a good (bad) time, you can read how Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation has agreed to its auditor's findings, and how it will use existing resources to significantly increase tree worker staff and contractor oversight including by way of physical surveillance, and introducing unit pricing in its new contract (https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2021/au/bgrd/backgroundfile-164241.pdf). All of which is a ham-fisted response to a problem that thrives across many workplaces, that will further degrade workplaces and outcomes of quality (and value). If procurement is assured that a continued preference for low-bids is going to win the day for taxpayers, there must come a day where auditors look at the resources allocated to surveil and measure contractors constantly (particularly at the scale of contracts distributed by cities such as Toronto) and ask some very basic cost/benefit questions. As a safety rep of a City contractor, I once encountered a City urban forester who questioned why I was performing training duties with a contracting crew. In fact, he made clear that no such activity was to take place on City contracts at any time without written authorization. I assured him that my time was not billable, and suggested that on the job training is not usually an event but a continuum. Such is the bizarre workplace we operate in where on one side of the contract is a belief that there is a deep pool of equipment and skilled workers, and on the other side a promise that there is a deep pool of equipment and skilled workers.
All content created by Ryan Senechal unless otherwise noted - You can contact Ryan through twitter or instagram.