The outcry over the fifth death of a temporary worker at Fiera Foods is putting pressure on Premier Doug Ford to fix the laws that place temp workers in harm’s way.
Temp workers need to have equal rights and protections under the law because employers, like the owners of Fiera, will never provide them voluntarily.
Fiera Foods co-founder and CEO Boris Serebryany provides a clear case for why we cannot expect employers to police themselves.
Fiera’s reputation took a devastating hit after the death of Amina Diaby in 2016 and an undercover investigation by Toronto Star journalist Sara Mojtehedzadeh in 2017.
How did Serebryany respond? With a public relations offensive: he published a guest column in the Toronto Sun that argued “Rather than scapegoating temporary labour, we should consider its advantages” because it “helps small manufacturers get an edge.”
The company continued its public relations exercise in 2018 by announcing donations to charitable initiatives supporting women in the food and manufacturing industries. A tour was arranged for Premier Ford to visit their main facility.
Then on October 25, 2018 another temp worker died at a Fiera business. Even before this fourth fatality, Fiera’s credibility never recovered.
Serebryany suggested in his column that any restrictions on temp labour would “handcuff” innovation. However, The Star provided a reality check when they reported that 13 temp agencies associated with Fiera were under investigation by the Canadian Revenue Authority, with seven indebted to the workplace safety compensation board for a total of $840,000. Four had disappeared without a trace.
Fiera was fined $65,000 for an illegal expansion, receiving 1,000 noise complaints from local residents about the newly expanded facility. If neighbours were upset about noise levels, imagine what Fiera workers experience inside on a daily basis.
Serebryany provoked his own Forest Hill neighbours back in 2009 when he demolished a home without the necessary permits and erected a new structure that exceeded local zoning bylaws. The home was built for Serebryany’s daughter Carmela, who is the President of Upper Crust, a Fiera-affiliated company.
In 1999, 17-year-old Ivan Golyashov was the first temp worker to die at Fiera Foods. The circumstances of his death are eerily familiar. Like Enrico Miranda, Golyashov was crushed to death while cleaning a dough mixer.
Serebryany was charged with failing to ensure machinery was locked out; failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker; and hindering, obstructing, molesting or interfering with an inspector in the exercise of his or her powers.
In exchange for a guilty plea to the first charge and agreeing to a $150,000 penalty, the remaining two charges were withdrawn. OFL Health & Safety Director Vern Edwards was incensed: “If they had so much interference that they had to lay a charge, then to turn around and drop it is of concern.”
From the first temp worker death in 1999 to the most recent in 2019, Fiera and Serebryany have never wavered from the cruel calculus of maximizing profit at the expense of precarious workers.
When Enrico Miranda died at work, his employer did not stop production. And yet when labour and community activists called for a rally outside of Fiera days later, the company cancelled two shifts, forcing their employees to take an unpaid day off.
In his essay “Wounds”, Canadian communist and internationalist physician Norman Bethune asks how we can identify those who have a disregard for human life: “They support private and public charity out of the excess of their wealth. They endow institutions. In their private lives they are kind and considerate.”
“But there is one sign,” he writes. “Threaten a reduction on the profit of their money” and “they become ruthless.” He concludes: “These men make the wounds.”