Over one hundred unionized employees of the Torstar-owned Sing Tao Daily have set up a 24-hour picket line in front of the paper's main production offices. Scabs have been hired to get the paper out.
Tensions escalated with the arrest of Winnie Ng on Sunday April 14. She had arrived on the picket lines with other labour activists to support the striking newspaper workers. Within hours of her arrival, police charged Ng with mischief. Many at the line said that security forces had targeted her. Ng was one of the only Asian women in the crowd that day. She is the Ontario Regional Director of the Canadian Labour Congress.
Every day, private security guards keep a constant watch of the picketers. Video cameras and note-taking security forces are also on the scene. Helpful public police regularly cruise by the lines.
The Sing Tao strike is Canada's first one for a Chinese-language newspaper. This is the largest Chinese-language newspaper in Canada, with editions in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal. The daily serves over 20,000 readers in the Greater Toronto Area alone. Sing Tao has consistently realized profits over the years.
If recent history is any lesson, the Torstar Corporation - owner of more than seventy community papers, five dailies including The Toronto Star and the Harlequin Romance publishing house - will put up a fight.
Toronto Star Carriers are Busted
Torstar just busted the fledgling union organized by Toronto Star newspaper carriers. The paper offered each worker a small severance in return for contracting jobs out to cheaper, non-union labour.
The striking carriers earned just over $0.19 for each paper they delivered on weekdays, more for the weightier weekend news. Most of these workers are immigrants and people of colour. It seems that the Star's liberal editorial policies were left in the margins when contract talks began.
The same union represents the Sing Tao staff now on strike.
Sing Tao and Ontario Labour Laws
The workers at Sing Tao unionized last year. When Torstar refused to budge from salary offers that froze workers' wages, contract talks broke down. A whopping 91 per cent voted in favour of strike action. Lines were set up on March 20, 2001.
The union is charging Torstar with creating a 'second-class' wage system. Some of people who've been working at the paper for over twenty years still earn $550 a week. Wages at other Torstar-owned community papers are much higher. For example, a journalist at The Cambridge Reporter makes $697 a week. Pressroom staff at Metroland, another Torstar paper, earn $28 an hour while staff at Sing Tao are being offered $13.53.
Recently, the Ontario Ministry of Labour ruled that Sing Tao violated the Employment Standards Act by denying press operators and mailroom employees their minimally required meal breaks.
After years (for some decades) of low wages, forced overtime without pay and illegal caps on the number of allowable sick leaves, workers have had enough. It seems that the provincial government has taken great pains to insure that many more Ontarians will be able to get their own taste of the conditions that workers at Sing Tao have experienced.
Near the end of last year, the new Employment Standards Act, Bill 147, was railroaded into law. Provisions would:
- bring back the 60-hour work week;
- mean longer hours and less overtime pay;
- allow employers to dole out vacations one day at a time.
Seen from this context, the striking workers at Sing Tao may be on the leading edge of a renewed labour militancy emerging in Ontario.
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