Canadian universities & colleges harming workers

A newly published report found that when universities and colleges contract food and custodial services, it comes on the backs of workers.

Last month, the Canadian Union of Public Employees released a report that shows how universities and colleges throughout the country are penalizing workers as they contract out services, particularly food and custodial services.

According to the report, roughly 84% of postsecondary institutions in Canada contract out at least some of its food services, and 61% have contracted out at least some custodial services. Not only that, but half of them have contracted out both food and custodial services.

The report also concluded that as services are contracted out to corporate providers, the workers performing those services are paid less, received fewer benefits, and are more likely to not be unionized.

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For example, in institutions where workers are in house, union representation is nearly universal. However, that drops to just one-third for privatized food services and 52.6% for custodial.

As well, on average, contracted workers made $4.40 an hour less than in-house workers, and the difference between the top wages was $5.24 an hour, on average. For a full-time worker, they could be losing out on as much as $10,000 a year.

Similarly, in-house food workers are, on average, getting paid nearly 60% more than the minimum wage in the province where they work. By contrast, contracted workers make as low as 14.5% more than minimum wage. The numbers are 52.1% for in-house custodial workers and 3.7–9.4% for contracted workers, depending on whether they are unionized.

Related to that, in-house workers almost all have access to a pension, whereas for contracted workers, it’s only half for food services and one-third for custodial services.

This gap is also seen in sick days, with in-house food workers receiving and average 16.3 paid sick days per year, yet their contracted counterparts get only 5.4, on average. The gap is even wider for custodial workers: in-house get an average of nearly 20 paid sick days, but contract get only 3.3 days.

Whenever public services are privatized in an effort to cut expenses, it can only be done one of three ways: poorer service, less pay for workers, or both. The fact that private companies have to make a profit and public providers don’t means that there is an extra cost underlying private delivery of services that public providers don’t need to worry about.

And the fact that profits interfere with the ability to provide the same level of service at the same cost should cause all workers to question the promise to “save tax dollars”.

Any such savings, as seen from this report, come on the backs of workers, who are expected to do the same work (or even more if their coworkers are laid off) for less money.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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