SFU’s use of outsourced labour leaves workers vulnerable to exploitation

Janitorial and food service workers deserve equitable compensation

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SFU’s cleaning and foodservice contract workers are experiencing job insecurity. Photo courtesy of SFU Contract Worker Justice Coalition

By: Nancy La, Staff Writer

Earlier in April, the Contract Worker Justice campaign sent out an open letter to president Joy Johnson regarding the school’s use of third-party companies to hire campus personnel. This includes food service workers and cleaners. Since contracts are renewed periodically, there is no safeguard against massive permanent layoffs, which is what happened to the contracted workers at SFU during the lockdown phase of COVID-19. When these companies look to cut costs, they do so through workers’ wages and benefits. SFU’s decision to outsource its labour creates an environment in which workers are exploited. 

SFU’s use of cheap and outsourced labour makes it a substandard workplace. The use of companies such as Chartwells Canada and Best Service Pros Ltd. creates “downward pressure” for workers since SFU is primarily interested in selecting the least expensive companies. Yet instead of saving money, SFU is misallocating its funds. Third parties also take a cut of the money, which could be used for workers’ wages if they were employed by SFU directly. For context, the living wage for Metro Vancouver was $19.50 per hour in 2020, yet the highest paid contract janitorial worker only makes $17.93 per hour. It is hypocritical of SFU to claim that it is making an effort towards equity while ignoring the basic living standards of the people who maintain our campuses. 

Another consequence of using outsourced labour is the lack of job security for workers.  Because the workers are under contract, SFU cannot redirect them to other parts of the school for other assignments, a solution used by UBC and UVIC since their workers are hired in-house. This proves that contracting workers is an inefficient labour approach. Since SFU locked itself down to contractual terms and conditions, this leaves no alternative path when it comes to deploying workers as needed.

The open letter makes a point regarding the racialized and gendered representation of the contracted workforce, which consists primarily of women, immigrants, and people of colour. Extensive research has been done on the vulnerability of immigrants to discrimination in the workplace and has shown that migrant women are disproportionately affected by such discrimination. Through its use of contract workers, SFU creates a space for the marginalization of the people who are already vulnerable.

SFU prides itself on establishing performative gestures, like the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion subcommittee. Meanwhile, its workers are expected to provide services in return for low wages and a lack of benefits and job security. Between the school’s daily operations and its promise of an equitable workplace for everyone, SFU’s actions don’t match up with its politics. 

Another effect of outsourcing is the lack of benefits accessible to contract workers. Because contract workers are not technically SFU staff, they are not eligible for extended health care benefits, and their sick leave and parental leave days are abysmal in comparison to workers of the same positions at UBC and UVIC. SFU chooses to do the bare minimum for the people who contribute to its daily operations just to save money. 

The issue of contract workers goes beyond that of money. SFU has the opportunity to prove that it can support its community and do the right thing when it comes to justice and ethical labour standards. To address the issues of outsourced labour, SFU needs to take an active role in the employment of janitorial and food service workers.