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October 31, 2019

Op ed by OFL Secretary-Treasurer Patty Coates, originally published in the Toronto Star, October 31, 2019

Everyone is talking about the Progressive Conservatives setting a new, more cooperative tone in this session of the Ontario legislature.

Workers in this province aren’t feeling it. Minimum wage workers continue to struggle on $14 an hour after the Conservatives cancelled the increase to $15 an hour. Educators and health care workers continue to be laid off thanks to government cuts. Temp agency workers face life-threatening workplaces because the government will not change the law to protect them.

The Conservatives have tabled legislation that limits compensation increases for public sector workers to 1 per cent, a rate well below inflation, while giving deputy ministers a 14-per-cent raise.

It is clear that the attacks on workers continue.

In fact, just before coming back to Queen’s Park, the Conservatives went so far as to deny a simple signature on a piece of already-passed legislation that would help protect the health, safety and rights of temporary hire agency workers. Instead, I was arrested along with seven other community labour activists who were peacefully protesting this governments inaction.

In my view, the real crime here is that Premier Doug Ford has done absolutely nothing to protect workers like Enrico Miranda, a temp worker who was killed on Sept. 25 at Fiera Foods when a machine he was cleaning was turned on while he was working on it.

Miranda was the fifth worker to die on the job at Fiera Foods or one of its affiliated companies in the past 20 years, and the second worker to die there on Doug Ford’s watch.

The Premier has done nothing to aid the plight of temp workers in Ontario. In fact, his government’s labour and employment legislation, Bill 47, has made it worse for them. Because of Ford’s inaction, employers who hire temp workers, and create the workplaces where workers are routinely maimed or killed, are rarely arrested and seldom charged for their negligence.

After the first worker was killed under Ford’s watch, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) demanded that the government conduct a sweeping health and safety blitz of all Fiera foods facilities. This request was ignored.

The OFL then requested Ford’s government create the regulation that allows the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to attribute the costs of claims resulting from injuries and deaths to the host employer, not the temp agency.

Doug Ford’s inaction on these requests undermines what was intended when schedule 5 of Bill 18 section 83(4) was made law by the previous government in April 2018: making companies like Fiera Foods responsible for workplace injuries and deaths involving temp agency workers. 

Employers like Fiera Foods and their subsidiaries should be held responsible and accountable for the conditions of work in their facilities.

Fiera Foods must do better, as must the Premier of Ontario.

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