By Anna Bianca Roach (@annabiancaroach)
Today, Oct. 17, at 14:45, a group of 40 activists gathered in front of Ontario Premier Ford’s office in Etobicoke. By the time they had arrived, ten people had already entered Ford’s office to occupy it. They were there to demand that the government take responsibility for the five deaths at Fiera Foods, one of North America’s most important food suppliers.
In Early October Enrico Miranda, a 57-year-old who was crushed by machinery while working for Fiera Foods. Less than a year ago, another worker was killed when he was pinned between a tractor trailer and the loading dock at Upper Crust, one of a group of companies owned by Fiera Foods. In 2016, Amina Diaby, was killed when a conveyor belt caught a piece of her clothing and she became entangled in an unguarded machine.
“We’re here today because we’re outraged and we’re in grief. There have been five temp agency workers killed at Fiera Foods, and two have died on the job under Doug Ford’s watch,” Pam Frache told RankandFile.ca. The action was organized by Workers’ Action Centre, Jane Finch Action Against Poverty and the Ontario Federation of Labour with the support of many community and labour groups.
On the day of Miranda’s death, other workers received no breaks, and work continued on as usual. When community and labour groups held a vigil for Miranda outside Fiera Foods, management cancelled shifts, after an outcry Fiera Foods was forced to pay workers for those shifts.
Cuts kill workers
The protestors at the occupation highlighted the inaction of Ford’s Conservative government, which has been avoiding the media for the last four weeks. Advocates for decent work have noted that Ford passed legislation removing the equal pay for equal work protections in the Employment Standards Act, which had incentivized employers to move away from using temp agencies. Temp agency workers have less rights, protections and power in the workplace and that is why Fiera Foods hires 70 percent of its workers using temp agencies.
“We’re stuck in a system where employers like Fiera Foods aren’t held responsible for workers who die in their workplaces. And that’s what this action is about today,” says Fred Hahn, the President for CUPE Ontario.
When workers hired through temp agencies are injured or killed on the job, it is the temp agency which is held responsible and see their WSIB premiums increase. But since temp agencies are fluid, closing up shop and reopening under a new name, there is little accountability. The reality is, temp agencies are a mechanism used by employers like Fiera Foods to avoid taking any responsibility and to avoid paying higher WSIB premiums when workers are killed or injured in their workplace. Temp agencies are a convenient way to offload risk, allowing employers to get away with not paying WSIB premiums or not ensuring safety in their workplace.
“As it stands right now, workers are often treated as disposable. And we know temp agency workers are far more likely to die on the job,” said Frache.
Advocates in front of Premier Ford’s office highlighted that the mechanisms to ensure worker safety already exists, and would be easy to implement. Section 83(4) of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, would make companies using temp agencies financially responsible under WSIB for workplace deaths and injuries. It was was passed in December 2017 but has yet to be enacted.
“All that was needed was a regulation. That regulation has been drafted, and so far the premier has refused to enact it,” said Rabbi Shalom Schachter of the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition “This was a very easy step for them to take.”
Occupying Ford’s office
At the time of the action, Ford was absent from his office. Ten activists arrived at 2:30pm and entered the office, beginning an indefinite occupation. Staff locked the doors to Ford’s office and called law enforcement almost immediately. Half an hour after the beginning of the protest, police arrived. Nobody except for law enforcement has entered or exited the building since.
“[Temp agency workers] are low-income, often racialized, migrant workers. One death is too many,” Simran Dhunna, a Fight for $15 and Fairness organizers, told the crowd before leading chants. “All Doug Ford has to do is come out here, sign [section 83(4) of the WSIA], and implement it.”
While Ford’s Conservative government delays enacting life-saving legislation, it has announced today that it will be giving its ministers a 14 percent salary hike.
This news comes as a slap in the face to people everywhere who have been protesting cuts that continue forcing low income people, people of colour, and migrants like the temp agency workers who died working for Fiera Foods, into increased precarity.
Deena Ladd, an organizer with the Workers’ Action Centre and one of the occupiers, phoning into the press conference from inside the now locked office said, “Doug Ford says he’s for the people, but that’s bullshit!”
The occupation is still on-going, follow @rankandfileca for live updates, if you are in the GTA consider stopping by to show support, 823 Albion Road, Etobicoke.