By Haseena Manek
Jane Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP) will be launching their new report, Permanently Temporary, at an event in Toronto this evening. The community-led report details experiences of community members working with temporary employment agencies and the challenges they face as a result of their precarious working status. The report includes the anonymous accounts of current and former temporary workers along with analysis and recommendations from JFAAP.
JFAAP is a grassroots community organization operating in the ‘Jane and Finch’ area of northwest Toronto centered around the intersection of Jane Street and Finch Avenue West.
“There’s over 200 temp agencies in our neighbourhood,” said JFAAP member Sabrina ‘Butterfly’ Gopaul in an interview with Rankandfile.ca, “and we were hearing that our workers were being mistreated. Loss of wages, injuries at work that weren’t reported, these were things that we were hearing from residents in the neighbourhood. We’ve been supporting folks in navigating these systems of exploitation and racism and horrible, deplorable working conditions – and stories of choosing between food or medication or necessities and it being linked to employment. I think it was a combination of all these pieces that made us start to focus on temp agencies or temp workers in particular. Members of JFAAP are temp workers and so it was something that was reflective and timely for us to take on.”
The report is part of a three year long project focusing on workers’ rights. Along with the development of this report, which includes qualitative interviews with six members of the Jane and Finch community who are current or former temp agency workers. JFAAP have been hosting a number of events for community members, to support workers in accessing their rights with temp agencies and employers.
According to JFAAP, they have hosted three public workshops on the rights of temp agency workers and two “political conversation cafes” focussed on the topic. It has remained an ongoing agenda item in monthly meetings and JFAAP have distributed over 20,000 flyers and materials with information relating to workers’ rights in temp agencies over the last two years. Workshops include a range of information from short-term actions like making sure to ask temp agencies to pay you with cheques instead of cash so there is a history of your employment, and long-term solutions like union organizing.
“I think in terms of the report,” continues Gopaul, “It’s a good tool for us to recognize that as people, as racialized people, as immigrants, that this is all of our fight. And it’s only gonna get worse. In particular with this [provincial] government that we have.”
According to JFAAP member Suzanne Narain, who along with Gopaul is on the project team for the report and workers’ rights events, the Permanently Temporary “frames temporary employment agencies, talks about labour in Canada, talks about the experiences of [working] people, the exploitation they’re experiencing, what their legal rights are and how those rights have been given and taken away and the legislation that exists and how it’s changed so many times in the past two years. And how our economy is dependent on this kind of temporary and precarious work.”
While the report includes six qualitative interviews, through public events and leafleting, JFAAP say that have spoken to hundreds of current or former temp agency workers who, “all have been validating the kind of challenges identified in JFAAP’s report.”
These include unsafe working conditions, a lack of training when working with hazardous materials, shortened breaks and being discouraged from going to the WSIB to report workplace injuries.
Many workers are kept on long term but still have the status of temporary workers. “They don’t get benefits, they’re treated poorly, their hourly wages are taken away, they don’t have a locker to store their belongings, so everything about them is so precarious and temporary, intransient even in their workplace, even in their day to day,” says Narain.
Additionally, she explains that this two-tier status system in workplaces has lead to threats and bullying from other workers, with temporary workers being told they need to “work faster or they won’t have a job.”
Fear and intimidation prevents folks from speaking out in the workplace for fear of losing their income. On top of that, attempting to address mistreatment from the temp agencies themselves can also leave workers with no recourse.
Narain explains: “some people have experienced that when temporary agencies are called out for their bad practices, they go out of business or change their name and move locations and you never find them again. So some workers were supposed to be paid but their temporary agency went out of business or suddenly moved and they couldn’t find them and couldn’t get paid.”
This fear was an obstacle for members of the community to even come forward to JFAAP with their experienced. Narain explains that it took a lot of public outreach including 6AM leafleting on the street or at transit hubs, public meetings and events and call-outs to find folks willing to be interviewed and share their experience. “It was hard to get new people involved. Like this has been a three year long process. So we’ve built a lot of momentum, people have gotten to know what we are doing,” she says. “It’s been building a lot of trust with the community and temporary workers.”
They have also established the issues facing temp agency workers in the community as key priorities for the Jane Finch Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy Task Force’s Economic Opportunities Action Group. JFAAP say they have made efforts to raise awareness of this issue with other community organizations and brought it to provincial and municipal town halls and events related to the elections in 2018.
The work on the rights of temp agency workers began as a specific project within JFAAP but they say they plan to make it an ongoing project and use the report as a tool in future educational initiatives and campaigns.
“With taking away [Bill 158], the conditions for workers are only gonna get worse,” says Gopaul. “I think this is a call out to not just Jane and Finch but the city of Toronto, and across the province saying this is a workers fight. And how do we grow this space as workers and strategize together? How do we fight back? I think this report can be used as a tool.”