Estina Gitan, 59, says she has worked for more than five years as a personal support worker through temp agencies placing her in hospitals and youth shelters across the GTA. She says her pay has always been minimum wage and her schedule erratic. (VINCE TALOTTA / TORONTO STAR)
Ontario has seen a steady growth in the number of temp agencies starting up at a time the province seeks to enact new protection for its most vulnerable workers.
Statistics obtained by the Star show a 20 per cent increase in temp agencies in Ontario over the past decade, with much of that growth driven by businesses registering in the Toronto area. In the GTA alone, there are now almost 1,700 active temp agencies — more than the combined total of seven Canadian provinces that track such stats.
It’s “like a huge warning bell to anyone who is concerned about (work) conditions and low wages and precariousness,” said Deena Ladd of the Toronto-based Workers’ Action Centre.
“I think it’s a huge indication that corporations are shifting their responsibility to a third party for employment. I think that is incredibly dangerous.”
To paint a picture of the scale of temp agency work nationwide, the Star filed Freedom of Information requests to every worker’s compensation board in the country seeking the names, addresses and registration dates of all active temp agencies. Staffing firms are required to register with the boards because they are liable when a temp agency worker gets hurt on the job — a financial incentive for companies to use them.
Two provinces, British Columbia and Quebec, said they did not have the data requested by the Star. The remaining provinces combined declared 847 active temp agencies, while Ontario alone had almost 2,600 in 2016.
In June, the government proposed sweeping amendments to Ontario’s employment and labour laws that would tackle the rise of precarious work. If passed, the legislation would make it illegal to pay temp agency employees less for doing the same work as permanent workers. It would also make it easier for them to unionize.
“We seem to be growing into a society where agencies are proliferating, and these people are getting a little piece of everybody’s paycheques,” said Labour Minister Kevin Flynn in an interview with the Star.