UCC environment society to cut ties with caterers over staff layoffs

March 16th, 2020

University College Cork (UCC) environmental society will cut all ties with the university’s catering provider over last week’s decision to lay off campus restaurant staff.

The catering firm Kylemore Services Group (KSG) has let all staff go who were working at the campus’s main eatery. It is believed that the staff has been told to avail of social welfare services provided by the State while coping with unemployment.

The move followed the university’s decision to close its doors for the remainder of the semester, a preventative measure advised by the Government to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The on-campus restaurant went disposable plastic-free in 2018, with the university’s environmental society working with the company to implement green initiatives.

Working with UCC’s Green Campus committee that includes the environmental society, KSG ran successful green projects such as from Meatless Mondays and discounts for reusable mugs.

However, the society’s vice chair Síofra Richardson has now said that it will cut ties with the company. “Environmentalism is inherently linked with social justice, and that means that we are going to stand up for workers’ rights,” Ms Richardson told The Green News.

“The idea of climate justice is that we, in our transition into a sustainable society, need to make sure that no one is left behind,” she added. She also called on the university to guarantee that its contractors uphold the values that the third-level institution stands for and stills in its students.

“I am very upset. As a contractor, UCC has the right to make sure the companies provide good working conditions, social security and have proper contracts,” she added. Asha Woodhouse, the environmental society’s finance officer, also told The Green News that KSG’s decision to let go of the eatery’s staff is “disgraceful”.

“We had supported them in the past with a lot of their green initiatives, but we don’t want to support them anymore now that we heard how they had treated their workers,” she said.

Encouraging students to speak up against injustices that take place on campus grounds, Ms Woodhouse said that “we often forget that we have a powerful voice, and we can use it.”

“We make up the biggest population of the UCC body. I think it’s important for us to stand up and use our voice,” she said.

Green Party Councillor Lorna Bogue said that some companies approach green initiatives from an opportunistic standpoint as opposed to genuine concern for “climate justice” and called on UCC to rectify the situation.

“Climate justice is tied to workers’ rights. We have seen this from many large companies who have used green initiatives to look good,” she said. “Then, when it comes to the rights of their workers or allowing workers to have security, we see them falling short on that.”

“[KSG] is a private company, but they were offering services on UCC property, I would expect them and the Government to condemn this behaviour,” she added.

KSG did not respond to requests for comment. UCC said in a statement that while the university does not dictate how KSG operates on its property, it has requested a meeting with the company’s officials.

“UCC cannot comment on the operational matters pertaining to another company. However, UCC has requested a meeting with KSG about their operations during this Government-directed campus closure,” the statement read.

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