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Fired five-year ‘temp’ worker prompts city to investigate company

The City of Toronto will investigate allegations that a city contractor profiled by the Star violated fair wage policies.
June 25, 2015
By Sara Mojtehedzadeh

A North York recycling plant that hired a temporary agency worker at minimum wage for five years will be investigated by the City of Toronto’s Fair Wage Office, following a series of Star reports highlighting the story of “perma-temp” Angel Reyes.

The 61-year-old father of three lost his job at the company one week after he spoke out about his half-decade of service as a temp at the plant. During that time, he never received a raise, benefits or the offer of a permanent job.

Canada Fibres, one of the largest independently run recycling facilities in Canada, has two contracts with the city worth a total of $135 million. Those deals bind the company to the city’s fair wage policy, which says all contractors and their subcontractors must pay workers at least the prevailing industry standard.

“Canada Fibres has signed to the fair wage policy. It is a requirement of every contract. As a result of my inquiries and stories, the Fair Wage Office is going to investigate Canada Fibres,” confirmed Councillor Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York).

“I’m very, very happy,” said Reyes, who added that he hoped the investigation would send a positive message to other temp agency workers.

“That would be the best thing for them, because I think they deserve a good place to work. I hope they can do something.”

The city’s fair wage policy holds contractors responsible for all their employees’ wages, whether they are permanent, part-time or hired through an agency. Reyes, who was making $11 an hour, says his hourly wage was several dollars less than permanent counterparts even though he was performing the same job.

Mark Badger, spokesperson for Canada Fibres, said he “welcomed the discussion” around fair wages.

“Toronto is a valued customer, and we understand our contractual obligations with them. Canada Fibres remains proud of the jobs that it continues to create at all position levels within the company,” he added.

United Staffing Services president Steve Kralik, whose temp agency placed Reyes with Canada Fibres, said the agency was not aware of the Fair wage policy. He described Canada Fibres as a “caring and compassionate company that treats its employees with dignity and respect - temp and full time.”

The investigation will probably require Canada Fibres to hand over its payroll information to the city for assessment. Offending companies can be asked to pay back wages to workers, according to Fair Wage Office manager Mark Piplica. If they refuse, the city has the power to dock the money directly from the company’s contract and return it to the worker.

Companies found to be in violation of the city’s policy are also listed publicly on the office’s website, and repeat offenders can be disqualified from bidding for future city contracts.

Those provisions make the city’s policies more robust than provincial employment legislation, which does not hold companies responsible for their sub-contractors’ behaviour. The Ministry of Labour also doesn’t publicly report businesses that violate the Employment Standards Act unless they are issued a fine.

Those loopholes have raised concerns about the public sector’s own employment practices: on Wednesday, the Star revealed that the Ontario government did millions of dollars of business with temp agencies found by its own inspections to have broken the law.

Following that report, the government confirmed to the Star that the Ministry of Labour will now share the results of its inspections with the body that approves temp agencies and other businesses for government use.

“Going forward, the Ministry of Labour be will be sharing blitz results to achieve our government’s goal of ensuring that vulnerable workers are protected and our vendors meet the same high standards we hold for our own service delivery,” said Andrew Donnachie, spokesperson for the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, which administers the public sector’s vendor-of-record program.

Deena Ladd, of the Worker’s Action Centre, said she welcomed the move but that the province should look to the City of Toronto’s more robust fair-wage policy as a way to hold employers accountable and improve job quality.

“You want to be able to have a staff that is getting paid decently and not being used as cheap labour or being potentially vulnerable to violations of their rights,” she said.