A Bakery Death Reveals the Vulnerable Lives of Temporary Workers

(Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

Twenty-three year old refugee Amina Diaby died in Fiera Foods’ Ontario factory while making croissant dough. She was a low-wage temp worker, one of thousands in Ontario, and her hijab got stuck in a machine. For The Toronto Star, reporter Sara Mojtehedzadeh worked undercover on Fiera Foods’ production line in order to document the dangers of Canada’s growing temp economy works. Fiera’s system is stacked in businesses’ favor, with poorly trained temp workers risking their lives and health for low pay, no job stability, no benefits and few legal protections in return.

It’s a system that’s on the rise, and consumers should check their foods’ labels and research chain restaurants’ sources. The foods we buy from Costco and Dunkin’ Donuts might have been processed by newly arrived immigrants just trying to survive while they pursue the same dream of upward mobility that we do.

Temp agency employees are some of the most “vulnerable and precariously employed of all workers,” a 420-page report recently compiled by two independent experts for the Ontario government says.

Temps can be terminated at a moment’s notice, the report notes. Companies who use them are liable along with their temp agency for unpaid wages, including overtime and vacation pay, but not for most other workplace rights. Temps are often paid less than permanent counterparts doing the same job, and sometimes work for long periods of time in supposedly “temporary” positions. Agencies are not required to disclose the markups they charge on workers’ wages. New provincial legislation, which goes to second reading this month, seeks to tackle some of those issues.

Research conducted for the Toronto-based Institute for Work and Health also suggests that companies contract out risky work to temps. When a temp gets hurt, the company is not fully responsible because the temp agency assumes liability at the worker’s compensation board — saving their clients money on insurance premiums. This is a crucial financial incentive to use them.

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