Recently, Fiera Foods, an industrial bakery in Toronto, came under fire for the third death of a worker at its factory since 1999. All three workers were temporary workers and killed in workplace accidents, giving rise to questions of the quality of training that such employees received.
A temporary worker is more likely to be injured on the job. Research suggests that temps receive less training while also being assigned riskier work. Last year, non-clerical temps suffered more than twice as many injuries as non-temps doing similar work.
Dangerous working conditions are just one aspect of employment that employment legislation addresses. The Employment Standards Act is designed with the benefit of employees in mind through providing protections for them in respect of their employment relationships. However the legislation in Ontario fails to include some of the most vulnerable individuals in the workforce. Temporary workers fall outside the majority of the protections provided by legislation such as the Employment Standards Act.
Unprotected, yet on the rise. Employment in Ontario can no longer be considered made up of stable jobs with benefits and security. Instead, temporary work positions are increasing, and taking the place of permanent positions. In Ontario it has increased by 20% in the last ten years. In the GTA alone there are over 1700 temporary employment agencies. And with the rise of temporary work comes the rise of not only safety issues, but also insecurity.
Employers of temporary workers are permitted to treat temporary workers differently than permanent workers. They can provide the temporary employees with no benefits and lower wages than their permanent counterparts. There is also no obligation to make temporary workers permanent, even after years of uninterrupted service.
What is especially troubling, given the deaths of three temporary workers at one factory, is that there is a liability incentive for companies using temp agencies. The workplace can be investigated and charged by the Ministry of Labour, but if it uses a temp agency, it is not liable under WSIB. Under WSIB it is the temp agency that is liable for injury, not the workplace. This saves the workplace money on insurance premiums and incentivizes the workplace to staff its entire workforce with temporary workers, and there is nothing in the legislation to prevent this.
In response to the deficiencies in providing protections for the present character of the workforce in Ontario, namely that temporary workers increasingly make up a large proportion in certain industries, Bill 148 is being proposed. “Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, ” the proposed legislation best known for aiming to increase minimum wage to $15, addresses some of the vulnerabilities of temporary workers. If successful, the Bill would require equal wages for temporary and permanent workers, as well as making it easier for temp workers to unionize. The Bill aims to curb companies avoidance of creating permanent jobs by lessening the financial incentives of employing temp workers. However, in its present version, Bill 148 does not require employers to make workers permanent after a certain period of employment, nor does it restrict the proportion of the workforce that can be filled by temporary workers. Employee advocates are hoping that as the Bill progresses it will close more loopholes and increase protections for the full nature of the Ontario workforce.
Devry Smith Frank LLP is a full service law firm that has a very experienced group of lawyers within our employee and labour law groups. If you are in need of representation, please contact one of our lawyers today or call us directly at 416-449-1400.
By: Samantha Hamilton, Student-at-Law