Toronto & York Region Labour Council
The Need for Labour Law Reform
(November 24, 2004)
Last week, Toronto and York Region Labour Council held two public forums to put a spotlight on the abuses many new Canadians face in their workplaces. Under current Ontario labour laws, thousands of workers have lost wages or even their jobs and because basic workplace rights are not enforced.
Workers across the city spoke out at the forums, which were co-sponsored by the Filipino Workers Support Committee, Somali Family and Child Skills Development Services, MIDAYNTA and the Chinese Interagency Network.
Some of these workers are part of an estimated 63,0000 people owed back wages totalling more than $214 million, according to Ontario Ministry of Labour statistics. Others are among the many who have been illegally fired for trying to organize a union to address poor working conditions. Many have been dismissed for upholding safety concerns or replaced with lower paid workers, despite years of service to their employer.
"These stories bring to light exploitive working conditions and treatment of workers that many people believe happens only in other countries," says forum organizer Daniel Yau. "The Harris government took away many rights and allowed employers to break what laws remained."
Goretti Frias works as a cook for Sodexho Cafeteria Workers at University of Toronto. Like most of her co-workers, she makes between $8-9 an hour. She and a fellow co-worker were dismissed without pay for helping to organize a union. Goretti was re-instated after the union intervened, and a petition signed by 70 per cent of workers demanded that Sodexho recognize their union. But the company still wants to force a vote, hoping to defeat the union drive.
Woody Zhong was one of 200 workers who lost their job when Glamour Look, a cosmetic factory, declared bankruptcy. According to workers, $648,000 in wages and vacation pay is owed to them, along with an estimated $1.2 million in termination and severance pay. Before the factory closed, workers were forced to work 50 to 60 hours per week without being paid overtime.
"Employees are most vulnerable. They don’t have information about a company’s financial situation like banks and suppliers do," he says. " There must be measures in place to ensure employees get their money."
Sukhmander Kahlon is an employee of Dynasty Furniture. Poor working conditions, low wages and no benefits motivated workers at this local furniture factory to form a union. Sukhmander, who played an active role in the organizing effort, was dismissed from his job three days after the union vote. It took one year for the Labour Board to get Sukhmander reinstated
Jing Dian Dong worked for five months as a machine operator in a factory producing plastic. The machine ran fast and was a high temperature operation. One day, his employer told him to turn up the speed of the machine in order to reduce the time spent finishing one batch of products. Dong told the employer that there was a clear warning of danger sign posted for operating the machine at that speed. Despite the danger, the employer told him to do it or go home. Because he was forced to quit, he received no termination pay
"It was wrong to dismiss me for speaking up on safety concerns," says Dong. "I saw this employer dismiss other workers for very small problems. You can’t be pushed to work faster and disregard health and safety concerns."
While the Ontario Government has begun the task of reforming laws, the labour movement believes they fall far short of ensuring justice for workers in all sectors, says Labour Council President John Cartwright.
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