Workers hold vigil to mark the death of worker killed on the job
ONCE SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE THAN ENOUGH. IT WASN’T. Another worker has been killed on the job at a Fiera Foods operation in Toronto. The fourth at a Fiera Foods consortium operation since 1999.
This time death came to a man in his 40s. Another temporary worker. He was crushed to death October 25: a transport truck pinned him against the loading dock at the Upper Crust bakery plant in North York. He was hired through the OL and Partners temp agency. His name was not immediately available.
Strangled as co-workers watched
Just over two years ago, 23-year-old temp worker Amina Diaby got her headscarf tangled in a conveyor belt working at a Fiery Foods plant. No one could help her. They had not been trained in how to shut down the belt. They could only watch in horror as Amina strangled to death.
In 2011, a 69-year-old male employee was hit and dragged to death by a tractor trailer in a Fiera Foods parking lot. The truck driver did not see the man. Fiera Foods workers had made repeated requests for security guards to be given reflective clothing to make them more visible. The company only implemented this simple change after the man’s horrific death.
In 1999, a 17-year-old worker cleaning a dough-making machine was killed when it was turned on while he was inside. In both cases, authorities fined Fiera $150,000.
Latest death under investigation
Little is known about the specifics of the recent death at Upper Crust. Police and paramedics were called to the facility late in the evening of October 25. Their efforts did not save the man’s life. They pronounced him dead at the scene. The Ministry of Labour is investigating the death.
An investigation into the 2017 death of Amina Diaby revealed Fiera management failed to take the safety precautions required by law and failed to train its staff. The company pleaded guilty to a series of charges related to the tragic incident. Fiera was fined $300,000. Not enough to get the company to change its ways, it seems
The specific chain of events that led to the death of Amina Diaby and the latest victim are different. However, the realities they faced were tragically similar: they were hired through a temp agency; they had virtually no protections on the job. Their situation was precarious. The risks all too real.
Last year, the Toronto Star carried out an undercover investigation at the Fiera Foods plant where Amina died. A Star journalist worked in the factory for a month. She reported she got just five minutes of training on her first day on the job, despite the fact she was working in an industrial setting.
She also found the workers collected their wages from a payday lender in cash, and no deductions were made.
The conditions prevailing at Fiera Foods are not unique. Estimates suggest that over 400,000 workers in Ontario are employed through temp agencies.
In 2015, a study by the Workers Action Centre found that 41 percent of jobs in the province are not full-time, permanent positions with a single employer. In reality these so-called temporary conditions often become permanent for workers, who wind up working as “temps” for the same employer for years and years.
Across Canada, workplace safety is a major problem. According to a CBC study, there were 852 workplace deaths in 2015. The investigation also revealed that in the 250 cases of workplace fatalities that have ended up in the courts since 2007, judges have handed down only five jail sentences.
Government attacks workers’ rights
The latest death at Fiera Foods’ Upper Crust plant is a devastating reminder of why governments need to do more to protect the most vulnerable workers on the job. The record is clear: If left to their own devices, private businesses will hit workers with a double whammy. They will cut corners on safety and pay poverty wages.
The idea that government has a responsibility to soften this reality is now a cruel joke in Ontario. The provincial Tory government is preparing to roll back labour protections introduced last year in Bill 148.
A requirement that companies pay temp workers the same as full-time employees if they’re doing the same work, will be axed, along with a provision to make the minimum wage $15 per hour.
A move to hire more inspectors to enforce worker protections will also be abandoned. The Ford government will freeze the number of employee standards inspectors, who are responsible for carrying out proactive inspections of workplaces for safety violations.
The new measure also cuts back on the penalties that can be imposed on companies who break the law. “I think that is going to send a huge message to companies who are routine violators … that it doesn’t really matter if you break the law, the penalties won’t be that much,” states Deena Ladd of the Workers Action Centre. “I just find that absolutely shocking.”
Another critical part of Bill 148 was an extension of responsibility for any on-the- job injury to a temp worker to the company employing them, as well as the temp agency. This would finally give workers a chance to pursue Workers Compensation claims following injuries. Something that was next-to-impossible with temp agencies, given that most of them operating in Ontario don’t even have a physical office.
It’s not yet clear if the Tories want to return to the former system, which would free companies like Fiera from any risk of being held financially responsible for injuries that occur on their premises.
How many more workers have to die before governments accept the need for the strict regulation of businesses to ensure workplace safety? The answer in Ontario remains as elusive as ever.
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