Waste & Recycling


I was a temp for way too long…

A prominent Ontario recycler finds itself in the media spotlight after the Toronto Star published an article that calls the company’s temporary worker use into question

Temporary-jobs-WantedI want to chat a bit about temp workers, sometimes called “perma-temp” employees. But first some context.

One prominent Ontario recycler finds itself in the media spotlight today, after the Toronto Star published an article that calls the company’s temporary worker use into question.

According to The Star article, a 61-year-old worker at the North York area recycler had grown tired of working as a temp at the facility for the last five years. No full-time job appeared to be in sight for the worker, so he went rogue to make a point about his stagnant job situation, one that earned him minimum wage and no benefits.

The worker has since been dismissed.

The number of temporary workers in Canada hit a record two million in 2012, according to Statistics Canada. That amounts to 13.6 per cent of the work force.

Now, due to the City of Toronto’s contract with the recycler — worth some $135 million — the City is launching an investigation into whether there is a breach of its fair wage policy. What exactly that breach could possibly be, I’m not sure. But companies that have previously violated the City’s fair wage policies are listed here and disqualified from entering future contract tenders.

Unlike the province, Toronto holds clients responsible for the actions of sub-contractors. In this case, the worker had been employed through a temporary employment agency.

Remarkably, Ontario’s Employment Standards Act has no limitation on how long a company can employ a worker as temporary before giving him or her a permanent job.

A spokesperson for the recycler, Canada Fibers, told The Star that he “welcomed the discussion” around fair wages. He added: “Toronto is a valued customer, and we understand our contractual obligations with them. Canada Fibers remains proud of the jobs that it continues to create at all position levels within the company.”

Now, I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of this recycler’s situation. But surely, many of you know that it’s not uncommon to have workers spend many years in a temporary position.

Before I was a journalist, I made my living working as a temp in various major automotive manufacturing facilities across Ontario. I worked at many auto parts suppliers too. I would regularly meet people who had been doing the same job for many years, and had never been offered a chance to work full-time.

Well, they worked full time; they just didn’t get paid full time. And neither did I….

It’s strange, really. Some workers seem to appreciate the lack of connection that comes with being a temp. There are so many reasons for becoming a temp in the first place. Most come and go, like me, but it’s the ones who are great workers and go years and years making less than their colleagues for doing the same job – they are the problem.

Temp agencies make a fortune off these workers, and generally treat them like they should be thankful they’re earning any money at all. In fact, it’s not uncommon that an entire department, particularly for parts quality, could be comprised mainly of temporary staff.

I knew plenty of great workers, besides me, and nobody was ever offered a job through the decade or so I spent in and out of these manufacturing buildings. Amazingly, the corporations would even hire temporary workers to “manage” the sheer number of temporary workers. I always found that strange.

Imagine the money saved by major companies that employ temporary workers long-term. Of course it’s a sound financial decision, but it’s whether it’s a sound moral one is really the question.

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