SFU won’t bring contracted food and cleaning service workers in-house
Enda Brophy of Contract Worker Justice said the decision was a missed opportunity for SFU to provide “visionary leadership”.
A coalition that’s spent the last year calling on SFU to stop using outside contractors for its food and cleaning services says the university’s move to apply for living wage certification doesn’t go far enough.
SFU announced last week that it will apply to become certified as a living wage employer, meaning that as existing contracts with employees come up for negotiation, they must be renewed at a “living wage”—which was $20.52 in Burnaby in 2021.
The university says the living wage requirement will also apply to contracted workers—and if a contractor refuses to follow the guidelines, SFU will not renew their contract.
“For Contract Worker Justice (CWJ) it is, to some extent, a victory, but it is a limited victory, in the sense that SFU will begin to do something about the shamefully inadequate wages of the lowest-paid workers on our campuses—workers who are mostly women, racialized immigrants to Canada,” said SFU associate professor and CWJ co-founder Enda Brophy.
“So basically, after years of pretending that it has no control over contracted out workers on campus, SFU has basically admitted that that’s not true, by announcing that it’s finally going to step up to take a degree of responsibility for this workforce’s wages and work conditions.”
But SFU also announced that it has decided not to bring contracted workers in-house—saying a Deloitte report, commissioned by the university to weigh the pros and cons of directly employing those workers, revealed that outsourcing was the best way forward.
Cleaning work at SFU is currently contracted out to Best Service Pros, while food service is contracted to Compass-Chartwell. The staff are not employees of SFU itself.
“As SFU has many gaps in the capabilities and expertise required to provide these services in-house, it is clear to management and the board that these services should remain outsourced. SFU’s food service and cleaning services have been successfully outsourced since the university was created,” it said in a press release.
Brophy said the decision was a missed opportunity for the university to provide “visionary leadership.”
CWJ has been advocating for the workers to be brought in-house since March 2021, citing low wages and “precarious” working conditions. It also says outsourced workers are excluded from the SFU community, as they’re not eligible for the same benefits as direct employees of the school—like access to campus libraries, or tuition waivers for their children.
“And there’s no mention from SFU of how managerial bullying, racism against workers at work, inadequate sick days, vacation days, pensions or benefits are going to be addressed. These are problems that are directly a result of contracting,” Brophy told the Beacon.
In January of this year, CWJ released a report alleging that contracted workers on campus were subjected to withheld wages, racism, sexism, and unsafe conditions. It also claimed that contracted managers often discouraged workers from taking sick leave when ill, even at the height of the pandemic.
SFU told the Beacon at that time that while it hadn’t been able yet to validate the accuracy of the report, it was concerned about the experiences workers had described.
When asked last week for an update on SFU’s response to the claims laid out in the report, the university said it’s “committed to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community.”
“The contracted workers included in the Contract Worker Justice report all belong to employee groups that are represented by unions who support employees with concerns and grievances with their employer and the University is also in conversation with these same unions,” SFU said in an emailed statement.
“We will be consulting with these contractors and unions as we move to meet Living Wage requirements and explore the creation of a program that supports educational opportunities for contract workers, provide access to additional campus benefits where applicable and find other ways to enhance inclusion for contract workers as members of our campus community.”
Brophy, meanwhile, said the university also needs to release the entirety of the Deloitte report, rather than the excerpt which it has published.
He also took issue with some of the points raised in the external review.
“It contains offensive allegations, like when it suggests that there’s going to be an increased risk of absenteeism if the workers are brought in-house. … And I think that you’ve got to keep in mind the really troubling allegations that were made to us around things like sick days being denied by contractors on campus, and the very, very limited vacation and sick days that these workers have now,” he said.
“So in other words, Deloitte was cautioning the university and saying, ‘If you bring these workers back in house, you’re going to have to give them sick days and they might actually take them’. As if that’s a problematic thing in a global pandemic.”
SFU did not directly respond to a question from the Beacon about that particular inclusion in the report, but said that the risks, benefits, and considerations laid out in the report were compiled by Deloitte as part of interviews with stakeholders.
“The analysis outlined the value, risks, and impacts to university and relevant stakeholder groups for each of the service delivery models and indicated that SFU has many gaps and challenges in the capabilities and expertise required to provide these services in-house,” the university said.