Airport workers demand fair wages, better jobs on May Day

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Photo: TAWC: Toronto Airport Workers' Council facebook group

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It was an afternoon of samba drums, churros and solidarity at Toronto's Pearson International Airport yesterday.

The May Day celebrations, which attracted about 300 workers and labour activists, kicked off around 1:00 p.m. outside the departures block at terminal one.

The crowd marched in support of the Fight for $15 and Fairness along the closed roadway as part of this year's International Workers' Day actions in Canada.

Pearson is the country's largest workplace and employs about 40,000 people.

Its poor health and safety record, endorsement of precarious work and contract flipping practises marks it as a prime battleground in Canada's labour struggle.

Just last week, airport workers said goodbye to 24-year-old ramp worker Ian Henrey-Pervez who was killed when the baggage cart he was driving rolled on April 22.

Sean Smith of the Toronto Airport Workers' Council -- a cross-union organization representing workers in dealings with the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) -- said while the week had been tough on the airport community, yesterday's rally showed the support workers had for gaining change and fairness in their workplace.

"You don't think of the most expensive piece of property in Canada as the bastion of minimum wage precarious work, but it is," Smith said of Pearson.

"These are workers working minimum wage jobs, on-call, no guaranteed hours, and if their wages go above $13 an hour, the next day the company they work for is losing their contract because somebody else is doing it cheaper."

A series of contract changes last year resulted in hundreds of workers in the airport's refuelling, wheelchair assistance and de-icing services being laid off and forced to reapply for jobs at much lower pay rates. According to the involved unions, at least 200 workers were never rehired. Parking attendants were targeted the previous year when the airport's contract providers changed.

"In a completely, deregulated privatised scenario, this is what happens," Smith said.

"You end up with workers competing with each other for fewer and fewer well-paying jobs."

Something has to give eventually, he warned.

"To give an example, at the bottom of the scale you've got minimum wage workers who work two to six in the morning for $40.

"Obviously, the turnover's through the roof, and on the ramp it's even worse because it's physical work.

"The precarious model, it's worse for seniors [experienced workers] too. The seniors are getting burnt out because they've got to do more work to carry the load which leads to worker-on-worker conflict."

One of the key issues at stake is the lack of accountability for oversight of the airport, Smith said.

"Many of the workers here are federally and provincially regulated in the same building -- so which government do we turn to when you've got two jurisdictions in the same building and a common issue?"

The workers' council believe the GTAA should implement a sustainable community-orientated model for the airport that prohibits contract flipping and issuing operating licenses to companies willing to provide cheap rates at any cost to workers and their safety. This is what has led to the current "race to the bottom" that workers are trapped in, he said. The GTAA also needs to enforce and regulate proper health and safety standards.

A list of demands for workers at Pearson is due to be presented to the GTAA at its annual general meeting next week. Thousands of signatures in support of the demands, which include a $15 hourly minimum wage and an end to contract flipping, have been collected, Smith said.


Workers' demands at YYZ:

  • Equal pay for equal work
  • $15 hourly minimum wage for all
  • All workers to be allocated a minimum number of sick days
  • A guaranteed amount of hours providing workers with sufficient income to live on

Source: Toronto Airport Workers' Council

Teuila Fuatai is a recent transplant to Canada from Auckland, New Zealand. She settled in Toronto in September following a five-month travel stint around the United States. In New Zealand, she worked as a general news reporter for the New Zealand Herald and APNZ News Service for four years after studying accounting, communication and politics at the University of Otago. As a student, she had her own radio show on the local university station and wrote for the student magazine. She is rabble's labour beat reporter this year.

Photo: TAWC: Toronto Airport Workers' Council facebook group

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