By Laura Blenkinsop
Ephat Matemba came back from his vacation in July 2006 to find out that after 15 years, he no longer had his job at Ryerson.
Now he is suing the university for over $100,000.
Matemba, however, has to prove one thing before he can claim that the university owes him money — that Ryerson is, in fact, his employer.
Matemba was a contract worker for Resource Property Services (RPS) who worked on heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems at Ryerson before RPS’s contract with the university was terminated.
He is now doing the same thing around Queen and Bay: working on HVAC systems as a building operator. “It’s what I am — who I am,” he said. He declined to comment further until he’d spoken with his lawyer.
On June 27, 2008, his lawyer, Patrick Mazurek, filed a claim saying that “Ryerson failed to inform Mr. Matemba of his dismissal,” and holding Ryerson responsible for failing to provide notice of termination, acting in bad faith, not providing vacation pay, not providing severance pay, legal costs and other damages.
All things that, under the Employment Standards Act, Ryerson would be responsible for – if it were his employer.
“This is an issue that will obviously be denied by Ryerson,” said Bill Reid, legal counsel to the RSU.
He thinks that Ryerson sees itself as a contractor of RPS.
“I don’t think Ryerson wanted to be seen as a co-employer, likely because it might lead to this kind of thing,” he said.
The claim says that while RPS was his main employer, Ryerson determined Matemba’s work hours and vacation time, which tasks he performed, and provided him with the tools to do his job.
It says, “The nature of the relationship between Ryerson and Mr. Matemba is such that Ryerson has at all times had the responsibility of an employer.”
Julia Hanisberg, General Counsel and Secretary of the Board of Governors, who handles Ryerson’s legal battles was not available for comment. No one at Ryerson was available to determine the nature of the termination of the contract with RPS. It could not be confirmed whether Ryerson had ever issued Matemba any paycheques or record of employment papers.
Ryerson President Sheldon Levy hadn’t heard of the case but says that it is common for Ryerson to change contracts.
“You can’t keep on giving the same group the contract. We are required by both law and policy that if there is business of the university that is large in nature, it has to be tendered and made available for everyone to bid upon.”
Matemba has filed a parallel action against RPS, Daniels Associates Inc., William Garland and Black and McDonald Ltd.
Mazurek was not available for comment.