March 09, 2017 15:14 ET

Striking cafeteria workers continue Silent Vigil at Queen's Park, call for end to poverty-wage jobs at U of T

After settlement at York, sub-contracted cafeteria workers at U of T's Scarborough Campus now among lowest-paid campus workers in Toronto

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - March 9, 2017) - For the third week in a row, striking campus cafeteria workers - the majority of whom are women, immigrants, and people of colour - held a Silent Vigil in front of Queen's Park today, part of their struggle to end poverty-wage jobs on campus. The workers, who work for a sub-contractor at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC), held placards stating their hourly wage, which stands at $11.50 per hour for the majority of the workforce. At just ten cents above the minimum wage, this makes the cafeteria workers on campus at among the lowest paid campus workers in the GTA.

In addition to voicing outrage over their low-wages and poor working conditions, the striking cafeteria workers also expressed support for the provincial government's proposed plan to reform Ontario's labour laws. They blame a loophole in the current labour laws for lack of job security they face as sub-contracted workers. So-called 'contract-flipping' means the workers can be out of work every time a new operator is selected, a dynamic they say leads to low and stagnant wages as the University participates in a race-to-the-bottom with the lowest bidding food-service provider.

"The University of Toronto is hiding behind their sub-contractor," said Ashini Guruge, who has worked at a Tim Horton's outlet at UTSC for three years. "U of T likes to see itself as Canada's Ivy League school, but workers on campus like us are trapped in poverty-wage jobs. It's time for U of T admin to step in and take some responsibility for this situation."

Earlier this week, cafeteria workers - also members of UNITE HERE Local 75 - working for the same sub-contractor at York University settled a landmark contract including an immediate raise in their paycheques of more than 10% for most workers. Within a year no cafeteria worker in that bargaining unit at York will be making less than $15 an hour. In addition, full- and part-time workers won immediate free dental coverage and, by the end of the agreement all workers will enjoy full and free health benefits for themselves and their families.

On the same day as their Silent Vigil, the cafeteria workers working at UTSC also delivered more than 5,000 signed petitions to Deb Matthews, Minister of Advanced Learning and Skills Development, calling for an end to poverty-wage jobs on campus. At the same time, workers leafleted in front of Minister Matthew's office, voicing their support for improvements to Ontario's labour law, expected as part of the provincial government's Changing Workplace review.

"It's time for the provincial government to step up and tell the university to do the right thing," said Sumaira Ahmed, a Supervisor at a Starbucks at UTSC. "If the Liberal government is serious about addressing the problem of precarious work, Minister Matthews and U of T admin will take real action. No one on campus at U of T should be working for $11.50 an hour - it's disgraceful."

The striking cafeteria workers at UTSC expect their weekly Silent Vigil at Queen's Park to continue until they reach a fair settlement.

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