Public Works and Maintenance Labourers - What They Do

Public works and maintenance labourers perform a variety of labouring activities to maintain sidewalks, streets, roads and similar areas. They are employed by public works departments in all levels of government or by private contractors under contract to governments.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Clean and maintain sidewalks, streets, roads and public grounds of municipality and other areas, working as member of crew
  • Sweep debris and remove snow from streets, sidewalks, building grounds and other areas, and load snow and debris into carts or trucks
  • Shovel cement and other materials into cement mixers, spread concrete and asphalt on road surfaces using shovels, rakes and hand tampers, and perform other activities to assist in maintenance and repair of roads
  • Spread sand or salt on sidewalks for snow and ice control
  • Dig ditches and trenches using shovels and other hand tools
  • Operate jackhammers and drills to break up pavement
  • Load and unload trucks with supplies and equipment
  • Collect money from coin boxes of parking meters along established route
  • Collect and load refuse on garbage trucks
  • Assist equipment operators to secure attachments to equipment or trucks
  • Assist in routine maintenance and repair of equipment
  • Assist skilled tradespersons such as carpenters, plumbers and mechanics
  • May operate mobile sidewalk-cleaning equipment.

Job titles

  • municipal labourer
  • public works labourer
  • parking meter collector
  • road maintenance worker
  • sewer maintenance worker
  • sidewalk cleaner
  • helper - garbage collection
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Several weeks of on-the-job training are provided.

Essential Skills


  • May read daily orders from supervisors. (1)
  • May read memos from management and foremen about changes to company policies. (2)
  • May read health and safety bulletins. (2)
  • May read company newsletters and bulletin board announcements. (2)
  • May read equipment operating instructions. (2)
  • May read manuals outlining safe work procedures. (3)
  • May read government regulations and city bylaws. (3)

Document use

  • May read labels on boxes to verify contents and destinations. (1)
  • May read parking and snow removal signs. (1)
  • May read hazardous materials signs on freight cars, trucks or at landfills. (1)
  • Complete identification stickers for items to be placed in storage. (1)
  • May check off codes on lists to indicate the condition of items being transported. (1)
  • May fill in hours worked on invoice forms. (1)
  • May read time sheets for a crew of workers. (1)
  • May read work order forms. (2)
  • May read container shipment schedules and manifest lists. (2)
  • May read vehicle inspection forms and fill in mileage. (2)
  • May read city maps or maps of sewer systems to locate work sites. (2)
  • May complete inventory forms. (2)
  • May complete service sheets with information about repairs completed. (2)
  • May read sound wave graphs to find where a pipe is leaking. (3)
  • May refer to blueprints to select a pipe size. (3)


  • May fill in work reports of tasks completed and hours spent on various activities. (1)
  • May complete a "daily comment sheet" to note problems such as the presence of dangerous goods or blocked access to tracks or to roads. (1)
  • May write notes to foremen to request new equipment or to note problems. (1)
  • May take notes to record train times, changes to regular schedules and special instructions from the foreman. (1)
  • May write memos to the police department or a city department to explain safety problems. (2)


Money Math

  • May accept payment from companies bringing loads to landfill dumps. (1)
  • May calculate the cost to buy supplies using a rate, such as 50 feet of fence at $5.00 a foot. (2)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • May prepare a work schedule for a crew, indicating regular hours and overtime. (2)

Measurement and Calculation Math

  • May measure the dimensions of objects to be shipped to ensure they will fit in the boxcar or truck. (1)
  • May calculate how to set the gear teeth of parking meters so that the indicator records accurately the number of minutes for each amount of money. (2)

Data Analysis Math

  • May read graphs showing water pump efficiency and compare them to graphs for previous time periods. (1)

Numerical Estimation

  • May estimate the number of gallons of water in a reservoir. (2)
  • May estimate how much material is required to complete a job. (2)
  • May estimate how long it will take to complete a job, taking into account the tasks to be done, the personnel required and the materials to be used. (3)

Oral communication

  • Speak to delivery personnel to find out what has to be loaded on the train. (1)
  • Call out to co-workers to guide them when they are backing up vehicles. (1)
  • Discuss instructions and schedules with foremen. (1)
  • Speak to the conductor or driver to discuss possible delays in departure times. (2)
  • Communicate with service personnel to arrange or co-ordinate repairs. (2)
  • Discuss broken items with clients and negotiate a price reduction for damaged goods. (3)


Problem Solving

  • May encounter icy road conditions which make it difficult to position vehicles at garbage bins or storage pick-up areas. (1)
  • May find that a load does not fit properly in the truck. They may have to unload the truck completely and begin again. (1)
  • May experience difficulty in using a sidewalk sweeper on narrow streets or on hills. They may have to leave the vehicle and use a manual sweeper and shovel in some areas. (1)
  • May receive vague complaints such as lack of water pressure. They have to find the exact location of the leak before they can do a repair. (2)
  • May find that the cells allocated at the landfill are filling too quickly and more loads are still arriving. They must check the availability of neighbouring land cells. (2)

Decision Making

  • May decide on the most suitable locations for public litter baskets. (1)
  • May decide to bring more repair material than the foreman requested, based on their experience of possible additional needs at the work site. (1)
  • May decide what compensation to offer a customer whose shipment has had some minor damage in transit. (2)
  • May decide whether a rail should be replaced or welded. (2)
  • May decide on the most appropriate time to shut off a section of the city's water supply to carry out a repair. (3)
  • May decide to call by law enforcement if store owners continue to have garbage on their property. (3)

Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking information was not collected for this profile.

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Public works and maintenance labourers and railway and motor transport labourers follow a work plan set by their supervisors, although they have flexibility in the sequencing of their activities. Railway labourers' daily planning takes into account the amount of supplies that they need to transport to remote work sites for various jobs. Public works labourers' planning fluctuates between organizing the carrying out of routine maintenance tasks according to a set schedule to emergency planning which is needed when a major cleanup is required because of a storm bringing down branches or flooding water mains. (2)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember the condition of items which were placed in the van or rail car so that they can later attest to whether damage occurred before or after the transport.
  • Remember the unique operating features of different types of equipment such as compactors, weed eaters and small graders.
  • Remember the routes for plowing and sweeping.

Finding Information

  • Look at road maps to find addresses for pickups, deliveries or repair work. (1)
  • Refer to municipal bylaws to verify parking restrictions or dumping regulations. (1)
  • Consult foremen, drivers and co-workers to clarify the work schedule or resolve problems. (2)

Digital technology

  • Use computer-operated machinery. For example, they may use a leak correlator which detects leaks by detailing the volumes of water flow and how long pumps were turned on. (1)
  • They may prepare a brief status report. (2)
  • They may use a database with information on sewer leaks. (2)
  • They may enter information on the total weight of material being dumped at the landfill and how much it will cost. (2)
  • They may use e-mail (2)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Public works and maintenance labourers may work alone to carry out assigned duties such as sweeping streets, collecting coins from parking meters or doing minor road repairs. They often work independently, co-ordinating their activities with co-workers nearby. For instance, parking meter repairs will be done in the shop alongside co-workers performing similar tasks. Mainly, they work as members of a maintenance crew. Railway and motor transport labourers often work with a partner to load a van or car, or to prepare a site for a repair to the rail line. However, they are usually part of a larger work team made up of four or five workers, including tradespersons and a foreman.

Continuous Learning

Public works and maintenance labourers and railway and motor transport labourers have a recurring requirement to learn. For example, they receive training on equipment and machine operation. In some cases, recertification is required each year. They may receive training in transporting dangerous goods (TDG) and first aid. Some take courses in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).