By Sara Mojtehedzadeh and Brendan Kennedy
Employers who use temporary employment agencies will no longer be able to evade liability for workplace accidents, the Star has learned, as new legislation promises to hold them responsible when temps are injured or killed on the job.
Last year a Star investigation showed how companies use temp agencies to cut costs and limit liability for accidents because temp agencies were considered workers’ so-called employer of record at the provincial compensation board. As a result, the agency took the financial hit if a temp got hurt, not the place where they were actually injured.
That will now change, making Ontario one of the first jurisdictions in Canada to hold employers accountable in this way.
In a statement to the Star, Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said government will proclaim legislation written three years ago but never enacted. The resurrected section of Bill 18 will now require the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to “ascribe injuries and accident costs to the clients of temporary help agencies” where injuries occur — not the agencies themselves.
“This will create a fairer system and make workplaces safer for temporary help agency workers in Ontario,” he said.
Workers’ rights advocates and occupational health researchers have long pushed for the reforms, arguing they would remove existing incentives for employers to shift risky work onto temp agency workers who often receive little training or protection.
“This has been such a huge issue for such a long time that it’s so, so great that it’s getting proclaimed,” said Deena Ladd of the Toronto-based Workers’ Action Centre. “I think we can now finally hold the companies (accountable) that should have been held jointly and severally liable for decades for injuries.”
Data obtained by the Star as part of its investigation showed that temp agency workers in Ontario are increasingly being placed in non-clerical environments like factories and warehouses, and that they are twice as likely to get hurt in these sectors as their non-temp counterparts. The number of temp agency offices opening across Ontario has increased by 20 per cent in the past decade and there are now more than 1,700 operating in the GTA alone.
A Star reporter also went undercover as a low-wage temp worker at North York industrial bakery Fiera Foods, which relies heavily on temps as it mass-produces bread products for major grocery stores and fast-food chains. The reporter received just five minutes of safety training and was paid in cash at a payday lender, without pay stubs or statutory deductions.
Three temp agency workers have died at Fiera and its partner companies since 1999. One was 23-year-old refugee Amina Diaby, killed on the job in September 2016. She was strangled when her head scarf got caught in an unguarded machine, just two weeks after she started at the factory.
Fiera subsequently pleaded guilty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and was fined $300,000 for failing to take the necessary precautions to keep her safe.
In a statement to the Star Thursday, Fiera’s general counsel David Gelbloom said the company has “a strong set of health and safety standards for temporary and full-time workers. In cases where temporary help agencies have failed to meet these high standards, we have ended working relationships.”
“As a company founded by two refugees, creating opportunity for newcomers is deeply ingrained in our DNA. As is the case with many of our counterparts, these opportunities are often provided through temporary help agencies,” he added. “We’re proud to provide opportunities to newcomers as they enter the local workforce and more than 45 of our temporary employees have been converted to full employees over the past three months. Every employee, temporary or full-time, deserves a safe, healthy workplace.”
Shortly after Diaby died, the Star began asking questions of the WSIB about health and safety at Fiera, and learned that in 2016, the factory — which employs hundreds of workers and operates around the clock — had reported just one lost-time injury to the board.
Documents recently obtained through a Freedom of Information request show that after analyzing the data requested by the Star last year, the WSIB’s executive director of regulatory services noted that “these numbers suggest a history of not reporting minor accidents.
“Fiera alone has over 400 workers, many of which (about 70 per cent) are temporary workers,” says the email sent in June 2017 to the board’s chief risk officer and chief compliance officer.
Fiera Foods did not respond to questions from the Star about whether the figures were accurate.
A separate WSIB briefing note released through access to information laws said the board’s regulatory databases “show investigation files related to 10 different non-compliant temporary employment agencies that are known to regulatory services as having been utilized by ... Fiera.”
Diaby’s death was not the first fatality at OLA Staffing, the temp agency that hired her, according to the brief. In 2009, an “associated firm” was convicted after a Brampton temp worker was crushed to death by a stack of plywood.
The temp was brought in because the client company had deemed the work too risky for its own employees, according to a court bulletin from the time.
The email correspondence obtained by the Star also shows how the WSIB struggled in the wake of Diaby’s death to hold Fiera accountable, because the necessary legislation was not in place.
After Diaby died, Fiera was initially issued a $44,000 rebate from the compensation board on their insurance premiums — for apparently maintaining a good health and safety record. A cheque for the amount was mailed to Fiera on Jan. 9, 2017, according to the correspondence.
Noting that Bill 18’s provisions on the issue had never passed, an internal briefing note said “the WSIB is unable to hold the principal Fiera accountable for having unsafe working conditions and failing to take sufficient precautions to prevent this workplace fatality.”
WSIB President Tom Teahen was “not particularly pleased” to learn of the rebate, according to an email from his special adviser Steve Jackson to senior leadership at the board.
Meetings were subsequently held to “look for creative ways to find Fiera Foods to be the fatality employer” and the rebate was ultimately revoked after the WSIB used powers available to it in special circumstances where health and safety violations are suspected.
“Can you please work with finance ... to make sure that in the future (rebate) cheques are held for any employer/party that is currently engaged in a fatality investigation,” says an email from Jackson sent in late January 2017.
“This may mean a cheque is sent out late, but at least it’s not sent automatically without some more thought and analysis.”
A later email from the WSIB’s executive director of corporate risk management notes that “the reality is that the fix required to fully address this situation is a legislative one, and a particularly simple one at that, that would make the client employer, e.g. Fiera, the employer of record.
“We have brought this point forward in numerous discussions and submissions with (the Ministry of Labour),” the email to senior staff says.
The fix will now happen, which Ladd calls an “important move forward.”
“Having workers’ comp be able to directly go after (client companies) now will allow us to support workers on the ground,” she said. “It’s so critical that these companies are held responsible for the actions of their corporation, when they put people in jeopardy and in danger for their lives.”
Fiera’s Gelbloom said the company welcomed “the measures being taken by the government of Ontario to keep employers accountable for the safety of their workers and hope that these measures raise the bar throughout the industry.”
Recent reforms through a separate bill, Bill 148, also introduced new protections for temp agency workers, including making it easier for them to unionize, equal pay for equal work, and paid sick days. The ministry is also undertaking an in-depth investigation into the temp agency sector with results expected to be available in the spring.
“Our government is committed to ensuring the health and safety of temporary help agency workers,” Flynn said.
By Matt Galloway
The province's proposed bill aimed at closing the wage gap does it by ending the secrecy around wages. Among other changes, the proposed bill would require job postings to include salary ranges. Navi Aujla, who's worked a lot of factory jobs and encountered the culture of secrecy around wages, speaks about her experience. We also hear from labour lawyer Fay Faraday.
By Kate McGillivray
Equal Pay Coalition co-chair says new legislation only covers ‘tiny proportion’ of the labour market
Women who have spent years advocating to close the pay gap between male and female workers say that a new piece of legislation unveiled by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne on Tuesday doesn't go far enough.
If passed, the legislation would eventually require all employers with 250 workers or more to come clean with their employees and with the province about how much they pay, along with a number of other measures designed to close the wage gap between women and men.
But Fay Faraday, a lawyer who co-chairs the Equal Pay Coalition, says the bill will only apply to a "tiny proportion of the labour market" and leave the rest of female workers in the dark about how much their male counterparts are earning.
"Here in Ontario, the government's own statistics show that as of December 2015, 98 per cent of employers in Ontario have 49 or less employees," she told CBC Toronto, calling the bill a "timid approach" to a thorny issue.
She said she wants to see all employers with 10 or more employees included in the new rules
Compounded by the number of women who work part-time and in traditionally "female" fields that are poorly remunerated, women earn about 30 per cent less than men, according to the province — a gap that has remained stagnant for the last decade.
'It feels very unfair'
As a temp who did general labour in smaller factories and warehouses in the GTA, Navi Aujla spent years in workplaces that wouldn't be required to follow the new transparency rules.
She said during that time, she never knew if she was earning anything close to what her male co-workers were.
"Not knowing is very disheartening and it feels very unfair," she said. "It was a common practice not to talk about [wages]. People were getting paid all sorts of different rates."
At present, non-unionized workers can be "disciplined or even terminated" for talking about their pay, said Faraday —something the new bill would prohibit.
Aujla, who now works as an organizer at the Worker's Action Centre, called the bill a "step in the right direction" but said she would like to see the legislation extend to "all workplaces."
Leaving out marginalized women?
Beyond the sheer number of women who are employed at smaller workplaces, including smaller workplaces also matters because of the kind of women who work there, said Colette Prevost, director of advocacy and communications at YWCA Toronto.
Women who are Indigenous, racialized, or new to Canada tend to work in smaller businesses, as do women in smaller communities with less employment options, she said.
"They're working in retail, they're working in restaurants, they're working in the social service sector," said Prevost.
Faraday also points out that Indigenous, racialized, and disabled women face even steeper wage gaps with men. In the case of Indigenous women, the pay gap is 57 per cent, she said.
"[The pay gap] is something that's compounded by all other forms of systemic discrimination in our society," said Faraday.
Employers are already legally required to deliver non-discriminatory pay and have been for decades, she pointed out, arguing that any employer of any size should be able to prove that they pay based on experience and ability, not gender.
"Time's up, employers. You've had five decades to get your house in order. Prove that you're compliant with the law," she said.
By Sara Mojtehedzadeh
Calls to the Ministry of Labour’s employment standards hotline have soared following sweeping updates to the province’s workplace laws that took effect Jan. 1.
The provincial information centre fielded 26,704 calls from workers with queries about their rights or potential abuses in January of this year, up 60 per cent from 16,742 the previous month, the Star has learned. The volume of enquiries is almost 30 per cent higher than January 2017.
Bill 148 included significant changes to the province’s employment laws, raising the minimum wage by $2.60 to $14 an hour, introducing two paid emergency leave days, and mandating equal pay for temporary help agency, casual, and part-time employees. It also committed to doubling the ministry’s complement of employment standards enforcement officers.
Following the changes, some employers moved to offset the increased labour costs by eliminating paid breaks or increasing workers’ contributions for benefits — most notably at Tim Hortons restaurants in Cobourg owned by Jeri Horton-Joyce and Ron Joyce Jr., the children of the chain’s founders.
As previously reported by the Star, workers at the Markham and Lawrence location in Scarborough were told they could no longer accept tips or have paid breaks.
“I’m heartened that people are calling in because that means they are engaged and aware about the changes and feel a sense of empowerment. I think that’s fantastic,” said Pam Frache, provincial co-ordinator of the Fight for $15 & Fairness movement that pushed for many of the changes contained in Bill 148.
“It also shows that employers are either unaware or are not implementing the changes.”
The province’s new emergency leave provisions appeared to represent the most significant jump in worker calls, according to the ministry data requested by the Star. The hotline received around 420 calls on the subject in January 2017, but received almost 2,400 this January. Minimum-wage queries also more than doubled from 345 to 819.
Other common issues included termination, vacation, and public holiday pay, the data shows.
“To my mind what this reflects is probably a lot more in terms of enforcement, a lot more in terms of educating employers, but also we probably need a lot more in terms of a legislative agenda now that we’re getting a sense of the wiggle room,” said Frache.
As part of its workplace updates, the Ministry of Labour is doubling is complement of employment standards officers, hiring 175 more inspectors and bumping up its capacity to proactively inspect up to 10 per cent of the province’s workplaces.
Enforcement was a key issue raised in an extensive government-commissioned report on workplace conditions in Ontario, which noted that the province faced “serious” and extensive problems enforcing basic employment rights.
Last year, the government’s rate of recovery when individual workers filed claims for stolen wages and other entitlements was around one-third, according to data obtained by the Star through a Freedom of Information request. Since 2013, this low recovery rate has resulted in some $38 million in missing wages for workers.
The recovery rate for proactive inspections was almost 100 per cent.
“Unfortunately, it appears some employers are abandoning the spirit of this legislation and some may even be doing more than that,” Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said following reports of employers scaling back entitlements in response to the province-wide wage hike.
But Frache said many small employers have embraced the changes.
“The opposition tends to come from the large corporations that rely most heavily on minimum-wage workers and, ironically, those are some of the most profitable entities.
“The contextual piece is to remember that most small businesses already pay above minimum wage because they rely on a stable workforce. They simply can’t cope with high turnover,” she added.
“Millions of workers are benefiting from these changes, it’s just too bad there’s a few high profile bad apples.”
With files from Robert Benzie
Regardless of what you think about Wynne, the minimum wage increase was long overdue and the tactics used by Tim Hortons are inexcusable forms of bullying.
Flora writes, “That’s what businesses need to do to stay in business,” but that’s a lie.
Most businesses that are employing minimum wage workers in Ontario are big businesses. Many of them, like Tim Hortons, are raking in billions of dollars in profits. The CEO of Tim Hortons’ parent company, RBI, made $8,183,504 last year and Tim Hortons generated $3 billion US in revenue for RBI.
To own a Tim Hortons, any potential franchise owner needs a net worth of at least $1.5 million. Meanwhile, when minimum wage workers were working full-time last year, they were still living below the poverty line.
Flora also writes, “she increases the minimum wage just so people can pay more for their bread?”
In case Flora hasn’t noticed, prices have been going up ridiculously even when the minimum wage was frozen for 12 of the last 20 years. Workers in Ontario haven’t been able to keep up and they are the engines of this economy.
So I say Tim Hortons is a bully.
By Daniel Tencer
"They have a brand that is in trouble."
Every year, Tim Hortons' Roll up the Rim contest results in some happy winners, and a whole bunch of disappointed customers holding "please play again" cups.
This year is no different, but with the coffee-and-doughnut chain embroiled in controversy over its response to minimum wage hikes, some customers are taking the chance to criticize Timmies over its treatment of employees.
Tim Hortons' announcement of this year's Roll Up The Rim — which started on Feb. 7 — was met with some pointed questions online.
"Have you ensured Ontario workers in your franchises aren't stripped of benefits yet?" one Twitter user asked.
Many others have taken the opportunity to criticize the popular brand.
The controversy began last month, when news reports began to emerge that some Tim Hortons franchisees — including the children of the chain's co-founders — were rolling back paid breaks and dental and medical benefits for their employees.
The move came in the wake of Ontario's minimum wage rising to $14 per hour at the beginning of January, a move broadly opposed by the restaurant industry. The province's minimum wage is set to rise again, to $15 an hour, next year.
Head office sought to distance itself from the controversy, publicly criticizing franchisees who rolled back paid breaks and benefits. But labour activists say the company has not taken further action to prevent franchisees from making those moves.
It's too early to tell whether the controversy will harm Tim Hortons' bottom line. But what is clear is that the brand was already facing headwinds even before the minimum wage hikes.
Parent company Restaurant Brands International reported this week that sales have flatlined at comparable Tim Hortons outlets (meaning those that have been open for more than a year). Sales fell 0.1 per cent in 2017, and have been flat or falling for five consecutive quarters.
"They have a brand that is in trouble," Mark Satov, strategy advisor at Satov Consultants told BNN last week. "They have a lot of negative press."
Some analysts take a more optimistic view. Peter Sklar of BMO Capital Markets predicted in a client note last month that the "negative publicity should die down in the coming weeks."
But so far, the public pressure remains on Tim Hortons. This week, labour activists, including the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Fight For $15 and Fairness campaign, sent Valentine's cards to workers at more than 200 locations, to show that the public "values and supports" them.
By David Shum
Tim Hortons employees at over 200 locations across Ontario received special Valentine’s Day cards and chocolates from workers’ rights advocates on Tuesday in a show of support for improved working conditions.
The action comes after several franchises slashed workers’ benefits and breaks after the province raised its minimum wage on Jan. 1.
“I think it’s shameful that the corporation has responded to the minimum wage increase by cutting meal breaks, by making workers start to pay for uniforms, by cutting hours and by taking away tips,” Deena Ladd of the Workers’ Action Centre told Global News at a Tim Hortons location in downtown Toronto Tuesday morning.
Over the past month and a half, protests have been held across the province in response to some Tim Hortons locations that have clawed back workers benefits, paid breaks and other perks as a result of the minimum wage increase in Ontario to $14 an hour from $11.60.
“Whether the workers belong to a union or not, they deserve to have respect and dignity in their workplace,” said Chris Buckley, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour.
“We’re going to caution these bad bosses to get their hands out of the workers’ pockets, pay them accordingly, treat them with respect and dignity or we’re coming after them as well.”
The protests began after Jeri Horton-Joyce and Ron Joyce Jr., the children of the brand’s billionaire co-founder Ron Joyce, rolled out the controversial measures at two Cobourg, Ont., locations they own.
Global News: Kingston employers honoured for paying workers ‘living wage,’ while rallies continue over Tim Hortons’ cuts
By Nikki Jhutti
Tim Hortons locations were the focus of more rallies in Kingston on Tuesday. Tim Hortons locations were the focus of more rallies in Kingston on Tuesday, while other local employers were honoured for paying their workers a living wage.
Kingston and District Labour Council hosted a pre-Valentine’s protest and handed out valentines for Tim Hortons’ workers.
The rally was held in response to the chain’s recent cuts to employee’s hours and benefits.
“To let them know that we support them in spite of the cuts that a lot of Tim Hortons workers have been seeing,” said Lesley Jamieson with the Kingston and District Labour Council. “You know, one of the largest public sector employers in Kingston has been cutting paid breaks, has been reducing full-time hours from 40 to 32 hours.”
Across town, it was a different story. Living Wage Kingston honoured four local employers for their commitments to pay their employees a living wage or higher. The organization says according to their calculations, the living wage in Kingston is $16.58 an hour — that’s based on a family of four with two working parents.
“On Jan. 1, you know the minimum wage went up enough to get people to the poverty line and you know certain employers have unfortunately taken steps to put people back below it again,” said Cam Jay, co-chair of Living Wage Kingston. “Forty per cent of the working people in this town make less than $30,000 a year.”
The organization honoured Kingston Community Health Centres, Loving Spoonful, Open Door Media and Kingston Municipal Non-Profit Housing Corporation with living-wage certificates.
Open Door Media has only been around for three-and-a-half years but CEO Ben Bowen knew right away he needed to pay more to attract the right employees.
“You either manage your expenses to the bottom which is paying your people as low as possible, minimum wage would obviously be that basement, or you go out and get the best people and the best people are not cheap,” said Bowen.
Loving Spoonful has been paying a living wage for the last three years and executive director Mara Shaw says staff are sticking around because of it.
“I can tell you that no one has quit since we’ve done that, you know people aren’t leaving so we have no staff turnover, we’ve got really highly-engaged staff that are sticking around,” said Shaw.
Kingston Community Health Centre employs about 175 people. Three months ago, officials there decided to bump staff to a living wage. CEO Mike Bell says it makes business sense to think about employees.
“It is a movement and I think it’s gaining energy and other organizations are starting to note that it’s just the right thing to do. We acknowledge that it’s not as easy for every business to do something like this but for those who can and are putting more thought toward it, it’s just wonderful for Kingston,” said Bell.
And while Living Wage Kingston honours those employers who go above and beyond for their staff, the Kingston and District Labour Council says it will continue to fight for better wages and working conditions for all.
安省劳工团体在全省 30 个市镇，组织了向 Tim Hortons 咖啡连锁店员工献爱心卡和巧克力的活动，同时也抗议部分雇主, 因为安省提高最低工资，而削减员工工作时间及福利的做法。杨捷的报道。
By Sara Mojtehedzadeh
More than half of all campus jobs have at least one indicator of precarity, a new report says, with temporary roles steadily on the rise over the past two decades and more employees juggling multiple jobs.
The study released Thursday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that while temporary workers accounted for 26 per cent of the college and university workforce in 1998, they made up 38 per cent in 2016. The proportion of temporary employees holding more than one job also increased from 2 per cent to almost 6 per cent over the same time period.
Nadine Sookermany has been part-time faculty at George Brown College for almost 12 years, juggling it with a job in the not-for-profit sector. (EDUARDO LIMA / METRO FILE PHOTO)
“The data demonstrates that there are shifts happening,” said Erika Shaker, the CCPA’s director of education and outreach.
“There was a lot of concerns raised about the impact it’s actually having on students too. We’re looking at working conditions, but those working conditions are also learning conditions.”
Using data from the Labour Force Survey, the report assessed what it called three indicators of precarity in campus roles: temporary workers, multiple job holders, and unpaid work. Around 53 per cent of post-secondary employees now experience at least one of those indicators, the study said.
The proportion of those who experience none of those indicators has dropped from a high of 58 per cent in 1999 to 47 per cent in 2016. While the share of workers with just one element of job insecurity has remained stable at around 40 per cent, the share experiencing two of the indicators has almost tripled from 5 per cent to 14 per cent.
The report also solicited input from campus staff, some of whom described being unable to raise their students’ concerns or safety issues with their employer for fear of losing work, financial insecurity, and mental health issues.
Nadine Sookermany has been part-time faculty at George Brown College for almost 12 years, juggling it with a job in the not-for-profit sector and as a single mother.
“Teaching was my bread and butter. It was good pay. It made a big difference in terms of whether I could pay rent or not,” she said. “So the obvious choice was to try and secure full-time employment.”
But those opportunities, she found, are increasingly rare. Instead, she is left wondering anew each semester how many courses she will get to teach and what contracts will be available. Ultimately, she decided to take a full-time role as the head of a small non-profit — a role that could also evaporate if the organization does not get core funding.
“It reflects the systemic issues that exist in our society that people … are sometimes afraid to talk about as well for fear of being targeted or excluded,” she said, adding groups like women and people of colour are disproportionally impacted.
The issue provided significant impetus for last year’s five-week long strike by Ontario college faculty, which was ultimately ended by back-to-work legislation passed by the provincial government.
The CCPA study looked at all job categories on campus, from academic instructors to student services and plant operations. It found that full-time university professors as a proportion of the campus workforce crept down from a high of around 20 per cent in 1999 to 15 per cent in 2016. Overall, according to the study, traditionally stable jobs like librarian roles have dwindled while research and teaching assistant positions, which are more likely to be temporary or part-time by design, are on the rise.
The growth in research and teaching assistants outpaced university enrolment, indicating that “perhaps work that might have been performed by another category of employee is being shifted to a job category that is already inherently less stable,” the study said.
Temporary workers are increasingly likely to work part-time and to work unpaid overtime, which Shaker said may be partly driven by the increase in more precarious job categories like TAs.
“There’s sort of a stacking effect, or compounding effect,” she said.
“I think it does raise issues of how we ensure that we are not reproducing vulnerabilities and we’re not creating a workforce that is literally contingent on people who can’t afford to say no,” she added.
Not all job categories on campus are experiencing a rise in precarity: the majority of student service, administrative, and plant operations workers are still full time and have remained a stable proportion of the workforce. Overall, the report says, job insecurity on campus is “on the rise, though not equally and not for everyone.”
The report notes that student fees, rather than public sources, make up an increasingly large part of funding for post-secondary institutions.
“Public funding has not kept pace with enrolment,” Shaker said. “And we are looking at institutions that are to some extent pursuing a low-wage business model. What that doesn’t factor in is the human cost and ultimately the cost on the education that these institutions are providing.”
“These public institutions are in a very influential position to actually take a leadership role and push for the change we need,” she added. “Because we know that precarity is not a healthy way to build communities.”