Undermining Workplace Gains, One Temp Worker at a Time
Calugay, Joey, Henaway, Mostafa, Shragge, Eric, Canadian Dimension
Au bas de l'echelle has been working on this issue for a number of years. Their research documents some of the ways that agencies undermine labour standards and conditions of work and contribute to the growth of precarious labour. They include: the general bad conditions of work, the unequal treatment of workers in the same workplace, some employed directly by the employer and others through temp agencies, systematic of infractions of the labour code by some agencies, abusive clauses in the contract the agency requires workers to sign, the lack of responsibility of employers, and the higher level of accidents among temp workers. Employers have also established their own agencies, which hire specifically for them. One strategy agencies use is to have more than one registered company and move workers from one to the other to avoid payment of overtime.
All of these methods are problematic but the question of employer responsibility has huge implications for recourse for workers. In theory, workers regardless of whether or not they work for a temp-agency, have recourse through labour standards if there is a violation of their rights. However, according to the labour standards board, it is not clear who is responsible and each situation is determined according to many different variables. This uncertain and legally complex situation acts to deter complaints. As a consequence, employers are protected from complaints against them and they have no responsibility for workplace conditions. Because of this lack of recourse, temp-agency workers are often exposed to high-risk jobs without proper equipment and training. The Institut de recherche Robert-Sauve en sante' et se'curite' du travail found that the accident rate for temp-agency workers was ten to eleven times higher than other workers. Another dimension that is particularly troubling is that Emploi Quebec, the government agency that manages social assistance and job referrals, has been referring immigrant workers to temp agencies, thereby acting to provide a pool of immigrant labour to these kinds of jobs.
The IWC sets its priorities based on the issues that workers bring into the centre. Over the last year, many workers have been coming in asking for help related to problems they faced with temporary employment agencies. Their jobs were diverse, working in health and social services, warehouses, agriculture and so forth. Here are a few examples.
One group of temporary agency workers approached the IWC to help them file a complaint with the Commission des norms du travail (CNT) - the labour standards board in Quebec. After working at a food processing plant for over a year, they were collectively dismissed, first by the factory where they worked, then by the agency that placed them giving them the reason that there was lack of work. This was done without prior notice by either the company or the temp-agency, and according to Que'bec labour standards they were owed several weeks of pay in place of the notices. This was on top of unpaid regular wages for their last week of work as well as unpaid overtime. Their first hurdle was getting their claims accepted at the CNT and once accepted the complicated task of determine who exactly was their employer and who was responsible for the violation of the labour standards. …